Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) introduced a bill Thursday to revamp federal oversight of nuclear waste, although he acknowledged partisan disagreements would prevent it from passing Congress this session.
Bingaman’s bill would implement recommendations from a January report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. President Obama created the commission in 2009 to evaluate the nation’s handling of nuclear waste.
Bingaman said in a statement Wednesday that he and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had failed to agree on legislative language for the bill. But the New Mexico senator said he hoped the proposal would serve as a table-setter for a September hearing on nuclear waste management.
“Nonetheless, we agreed that I should introduce legislation and that the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources should hold a hearing in September,” Bingaman said. “My hope is to obtain testimony on it and to build a legislative record that might serve as the foundation for further consideration and ultimate enactment in the next Congress.”
The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission recommended developing interim storage sites to hold the waste accumulating at nuclear power reactors; restarting efforts to build one or more permanent disposal sites; and establishing a new independent federal body to assume oversight duties from the Energy Department.
Obama and Republican lawmakers have been at odds over the issue, especially after the administration’s decision to abandon the long-planned and long-delayed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
Congress had identified Yucca Mountain as its preferred site for spent nuclear fuel in 1987, but amid opposition from Nevada lawmakers, spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the White House abandoned the project in 2009. Republicans allege that the decision was motivated by politics and not science.
Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu established the commission in 2009 to recommend a path forward on the nation’s nuclear waste storage plans.
About 65,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at 75 nuclear reactors around the nation.