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Progress on waste issue key to support for nuclear: US senator

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Progress on waste issue key to support for nuclear: US senator

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US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said at an appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday that she cannot continue to support nuclear power if there is "no strategy for the long-term storage of the waste."

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Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, criticized the nuclear power industry in her opening statement on what she called its failure to speak with "one voice" on the need for interim storage of utility spent fuel. The country, she said, "should be working to establish interim [spent fuel] storage far away from reactors and population centers." The hearing was scheduled to look at the future of nuclear power.

The lesson of the Yucca Mountain repository project is "any solution to nuclear waste needs to be voluntary," Feinstein said. She and subcommittee chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Senators Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the energy committee, have introduced legislation that would, among other things, establish a consent-based siting process. The bill has not moved out of committee, however.

The Department of Energy dismantled the Yucca Mountain repository project in Nevada in 2010, two years after it submitted a repository license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, saying in part that the state of Nevada's unyielding opposition to the proposed disposal facility made the site unworkable.

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Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told the subcommittee that a voluntary siting process is needed and that DOE will discuss during at a public meeting Thursday in Washington input the department received during eight public meetings held across the US on what a consent-based siting process should involve this year.

Support for a nuclear waste facility has to be aligned on the community, state and federal levels to avoid "bad surprises later on," Moniz said.

In response to a question from Feinstein, Moniz said DOE's general counsel has said the department has the authority, although not specifically stated, to use a private-sector facility to store utility spent fuel. He said DOE could move forward on setting up contracts with such facilities.

Currently, private-sector efforts are underway in Texas and New Mexico to site consolidated interim storage facilities that would have DOE as its only customer.

US COULD LOSE NEARLY HALF ITS FLEET, ALEXANDER SAYS

Alexander, meanwhile, focused on issues related to the continued operation of US power reactors. The US now has 99 licensed operating reactors; that will increase to 100 when Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 2 in Spring City, Tennessee, starts commercial operation.

By 2038, 48 US reactors will be at least 60 years old, Alexander said, adding that the country would lose about half of its reactor fleet if their NRC operating licenses are not extended beyond 60 years. NRC's initial operating licenses for power reactors are for 40 years. Most units have received, or are seeking, a 20-year license renewal, putting their total operating time at 60 years.

Exelon Generation said June 7 it will seek a second 20-year renewal, also known as a subsequent license renewal, of its NRC operating license for the Peach Bottom units 2 and 3 boiling water reactors in Delta, Pennsylvania. If NRC approves the renewal, the Peach Bottom units would be licensed to operate for a total of up to 80 years.

Exelon's announcement came after Dominion said in November that it plans to seek subsequent license renewal for the two pressurized water reactors at its Surry station in Virginia.

--Elaine Hiruo, elaine.hiruo@spglobal.com
--Edited by Valarie Jackson, valarie.jackson@spglobal.com