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Nuclear Fisticuffs: Senate Panel and DOE Go Around on Waste Storage

Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 1996

she'd have an answer for the panel. Daniel Dreyfus of DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management testified to a high probability that the site can be used.

"You're stalling," Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-ID)

said to O'Leary. "I heard a very sophisticated,

first-class, articulate stall. ... And that's tragically disappointing."

"Where you and I disagree is on the timeline to move along that course, and you may choose to call that stalling," O'Leary said. "I call that responsible, appropriate action." She said the DOE team wanted to build the confidence of the country and of Nevadans as they proceeded: "What I'd like to see is not only legislation, but I'd like to see a facility built."

Sen. Jon L. Kyl (R-AZ) reminded the committee about the 75 sites where 30,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste already lie in storage ponds or dry storage: "We're willing to let something sit there, which obviously poses a problem and potential danger for years, while we study how we can safely store it sometime in the far, far, far distant future. There's something drastically wrong here."

Despite the head-butting, McCarthy said it was the first time committee members of both parties reached an understanding of where they needed to go and how to take the action required to provide interim and long-term nuclear waste storage. "And that's a change of direction," he said. "That's a powerful change, because that's a precursor to

consensus-making. And consensus-making is what makes legislation." t

Joseph F. Schuler, Jr. is associate editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY.

No DOE?

"It is time to close the Department of Energy,"

That's the call of The Heritage Foundation in a November 9, 1995, report citing "empire building, inefficiencies as high as 40 percent, and management problems." How to Close Down the Department of Energy attributes these problems and inefficiencies to DOE's continual efforts to justify its existence:

"DOE has grown in tax dollars spent and functions performed-the result of 15 years of searching for something to do.... Thanks to this continual empire-building, the department's budget has increased 235 percent, and 85 percent today is spent on activities other than energy resources. For instance, nearly $12 billion is budgeted annually for environmental quality and nuclear waste disposal, with...$3 billion ear-marked for fundamental science research."

The Heritage Foundation proposes an end to federal funding for commercial energy supply, research, and development. Research would be transferred to private companies. All commercial energy functions-including the Power Marketing Administration, Strategic Petroleum Reserves, and Uranium Enrichment-would be denationalized and sold to private companies. The Foundation claims such reforms would save $41 billion in taxes over five years. Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary's "reinvention" plan would save only $14.1 billion over the same period.

Nuclear Waste Bills on the Hill

S. 1271, Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1995

[Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-ID)] Detaches interim storage from a long-term repository, and sets a 1998 deadline for DOE to accept waste. It would streamline the environmental impact statement process and set up a performance standard for the permanent repository. It would