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Mich. House committee passes 3 resolutions on nuclear waste

A Michigan House Energy Policy Committee unanimously passed three resolutions urging the federal government to establish a permanent solution for nuclear waste.

The committee heard the bills during a March 28 hearing. Two of the resolutions, SCR 6 and SCR 9, are sponsored by Sen. John Proos, who represents Berrien County, home to the Donald C. Cook nuclear plant owned by a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co. Inc. SCR 6 urges Congress to appropriate money from the Nuclear Waste Fund to establish a permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste and reimburse utility customers who have contributed to the fund. Michigan utility customers have paid more than $800 million to the Nuclear Waste Fund since 1983, according to SCR 9, but a federal solution has yet to materialize. SCR 9 urges Congress and President Donald Trump to back policies allowing for facilities that reprocess and repurpose spent nuclear fuel. SCR 9 refers to Argonne National Laboratory's high-temperature method to recycle spent nuclear fuel and extend the life of the uranium ore for power generation.

The last resolution, SCR 8, urges the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to also work on a permanent solution for handling nuclear waste. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Dale Zorn, whose district includes Monroe County, home to DTE Energy Co.'s Fermi nuclear plant.

The three resolutions come as the state continues to store spent nuclear fuel on the shores of Lake Michigan. Congress in 2002, under then-President George W. Bush, approved Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for spent nuclear fuel, but the NRC's review of the site halted in 2010 under the Obama administration with the support of then-Senate President Harry Reid of Nevada. The transportation of fuel to Yucca Mountain has also been a point of contention more so than the site itself, Proos said during the hearing.

The resolutions come as legislators in Michigan seek ways to protect nuclear generation. Proos said the Cook plant is the largest taxpayer in Berrien County. He also pointed to the Palisades nuclear plant, which is scheduled to retire in 2018 instead of in 2022, when its current power contract with Consumers Energy Co. expires. The plant's owner, Entergy Corp., last December announced the early retirement because of market conditions and savings to Consumers Energy customers from switching to more economic alternatives, according to Entergy's December 2016 release. The Michigan Public Service Commission is considering the possible closure of Palisades and will hold meetings in May to inform the public, according to March 28 release.

Members of the committee passed the resolutions in hopes that the discussion can move under Trump's administration. The passage comes as Energy Department head Rick Perry on March 27 visited Yucca Mountain and President Trump's budget blueprint from March 16 included $120 million to restart the process of licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The three resolutions had previously passed the state Senate on March 8. They now head to the full House.