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Copyright 1999 Federal News Service, Inc.  
Federal News Service



LENGTH: 2045 words



Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you today to review technical progress in the Department's civilian radioactive waste management program and address the interim storage legislation, H.R. 45, introduced by Representative Upton.
The Administration is committed to resolving the complex and important issue of nuclear waste disposal in a manner consistent with sound science and protection of the public health and safety, and the environment. The Administration continues to believe that the Federal government's longstanding commitment to permanent, geologic disposal should remain the basic goal of its high-level radioactive waste management policy.
The repository effort is essential not only for commercial spent fuel disposal but also to facilitate the cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, further our nuclear nonproliferation goals, and support our nuclear Navy's national defense mission. The Department is committed to fulfill its responsibilities for the permanent disposal of the Nation's spent fuel and the by-products of the Department's post-Co1d War cleanup efforts in a manner that provides reasonable assurance that the public and the environment will be adequately protected. Our policy of permanent geologic disposal of this Nation's waste is also the technical foundation of our international position on nuclear nonproliferation, our commitment to dispose of U.S. fuel being returned from other countries, and our advocacy of limiting the international trade in weapons materials. TheDepartment has made substantial progress during the last six years in fulfilling these responsibilities.
The pending legislation, H. R. 45, is very similar to legislation considered in the last session of Congress, which the President stated he would veto. I will address that legislation later in my testimony, but would first like to provide a status report on the repository program.
In December 1998, Secretary Richardson submitted the Viability Assessment of a Repository at Yucca Mountain to the Congress and the President.
The Viability Assessment provides policy makers such as this Subcommittee a technical status report on work carried out to date at Yucca Mountain. The Viability Assessment compiled a comprehensive description of the current design and operational concept for a repository based on data and work over the last decade. It assessed the potential performance of a repository concept in the Yucca Mountain geologic setting and contained a cost estimate and a plan for completing the license application.
The Viability Assessment revealed that no "show stoppers" have been identified to date at Yucca Mountain and the Secretary has concluded that scientific and technical work should proceed at the site. It also identified issues that will need to be addressed before a decision can be made on whether or not Yucca Mountain should be recommended as a site for a repository. These issues include the key natural processes in Yucca Mountain, such as water movement, that would affect the long- term performance of the repository and waste package designs.
We recognize that our assumptions and analyses have yet to be challenged in a rigorous licensing proceeding before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that additional work will need to be done in order to assure success in order to meet the rigorous requirement of such a proceeding.We are preparing the comprehensive technical documentation needed to complete the site characterization of Yucca Mountain and to support the Secretary's decision whether to recommend the site to the President in 2001. The most challenging aspect of this effort is that we must provide scientific reasonable assurance that a repository at Yucca Mountain will adequately protect public health and safety and the environment for thousands of years after the repository is closed.
This will be accomplished through a scientific, probabilistic performance assessment that evaluates how a repository system is likely to work over very long time periods. From the results of scientific studies, analysts build detailed mathematical models of the features, events, and processes that could affect the performance of the repository design. They then incorporate the results into an overall model to assess how the natural environment and engineered repository system are likely to work together over the long period required to contain and minimize the release of wastes into the environment.
Our studies have found that a repository at Yucca Mountain would need to exhibit four key attributes to protect public health and the environment for thousands of years. The four attributes are limited water contact with waste packages, long waste package lifetime, low rate of release of radionuclides from breached waste packages, and reduction in the concentration of radionuclides as they are transported from breached waste packages.
A reference design was developed for the viability assessment to provide a consistent basis for making and comparing our evaluations. Our design process has, and will continue, to evolve and consider the potential advantages of alternative design features, concepts, and options. For example, as we move towards the Secretary's site recommendation, we are including additional factors in the design selection process. First, we want to determine whether there are fundamentally different repository design concepts that could meet performance standards more effectively and efficiently than the reference design. Second, we will evaluate whether there aredesign features that could be added or incorporated into either the reference design or any alternative design with significant benefit. Lastly, we will consider whether there are alternative concepts or features that, in addition to meeting performance standards, could provide advantages with regard to operational, budgetary and regulatory issues.
As you know, the Department is in litigation over our inability to meet our contractual obligation to accept spent fuel from the nuclear utility companies by January 31, 1998. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Department has an obligation to commence spent fuel disposal by January 31, 1998. The Court denied the utilities' and States' request for a move-fuel order, finding that the Standard Disposal Contract provides a potentially adequate remedy. The Court stated that the Department may not rely on the "unavoidable delays" clause to excuse its delay in performance and suggested the "avoidable delays" clause of the Standard Contract as the potentially adequate remedy. This clause provides for an equitable adjustment of schedules and contract charges to reflect any estimated additional costs incurred by the contract holder.
Pursuant to the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Department will process claims presented to it under the standard disposal contract. Although we have held settlement discussions with several utilities, only one utility has proposed a bilateral modification and request for equitable adjustment of the contract, and no formal claims have been filed.

To date, ten utilities have filed claims for monetary damages in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In the first three cases decided by the Court, the Department was found to have breached its contracts with three utilities, each with only one shutdown reactor, and the Department is now engaged in discovery to determine the amount of damages the Government must pay theseutilities. Other cases, most involving utilities with operating reactors paying ongoing fees to the Department, are currently pending.
The enactment of H.R. 45 could force the focus of our waste management policy from geologic disposal to a short term solution by requiring the Department to develop and commence operation of an interim storage facility at the Nevada Test Site. The bill requires the Department to begin accepting waste no later than June 30, 2003, and provides a defined acceptance schedule for the interim storage of spent fuel in Nevada.
The bill would undermine our ability to open the repository as scheduled in 2010 by shifting budget priorities and work effort to an interim storage facility. For example, it implies a delay of our proposed repository construction authorization license application by over a year, with a target date of December 2003.
Based on historical appropriations patterns, the proposed bill's funding provisions do not provide sufficient funding resources to support the simultaneous construction and operation of an interim storage facility and the repository program, for which cost estimates have been provided in the Viability Assessment and the recently issued Total System Life Cycle Cost report. If the Department has responsibilities to comply with the interim storage facility and repository funding provisions and schedules, enactment of the bill could result in a funding gap of substantially over one billion dollars.
The Department also believes that a waste acceptance deadline of June 2003 is very optimistic, given the licensing and transportation activities that would have to be completed prior to that date.The new interim storage legislation is essentially the same as H. R. 1270, previously passed by the House, which the Administration made clear the President would have vetoed. The Secretary opposes H. R. 45 and would recommend to the President that he veto the legislation if Congress passes it in its current form.
Specifically, the Administration opposes this legislation because it would jeopardize the existing geologic disposal policy by forcing resources to be redirected to interim storage development, rather than completion by 2001 of the site characterization work needed to make a decision on the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site. The Federal government's longstanding commitment to permanent geologic disposal should remain the basic goal of its high level radioactive waste management policy. Permanent geologic disposal is also the approach preferred by the international community for nuclear waste.
In addition, it would authorize the Secretary to immediately begin site preparation for the construction of a centralized interim storage facility within Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site regardless of whether Yucca Mountain is found to be suitable for a permanent repository. By doing so, H.R. 45 would undermine public confidence that a repository evaluation will be objective and technically sound, and jeopardize the credibility of any future decision on the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site.
The Program is reaching the conclusion of our site characterization effort. Let us finish. The Viability Assessment clarified the remaining work required and illuminated those technical issues that should be addressed prior to determining if the site is suitable for recommendation to the President. We are addressing these issues and have commenced work on assembling the information required to support national decisions on geologic disposal at Yucca Mountain.We are on schedule to complete a draft repository environmental impact statement in July 1999; a final repository environmental impact statement in 2000; and the Yucca Mountain site suitability in 2001. With sufficient appropriations, and if the site is suitable, we are also on schedule to submit the license application for repository construction to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2002 and begin emplacement of waste in the repository in 2010, if the site is licensed.
We believe that H.R. 45 could undermine this progress toward permanent geologic disposal, and could weaken the credibility of the regulatory and institutional activities required to ensure adequate protection of health, safety, and the environment - -jeopardizing the Nation's ability to have any solution to our nuclear waste challenge. For these reasons, the Administration opposes H. R. 45.
I would be happy to address any questions that you may have.

LOAD-DATE: February 11, 1999

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