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Dodging Suits and Pols, DOE Digs In on Nuclear Waste

Fortnightly Magazine - March 1 1997

holding the waste.

At the Feb. 5 senate hearing, Grumbly maintained the DOE had never accepted liability for the waste. "We don't believe we'll be able to take (em physical (em the waste on Jan. 31, 1998. ... We are asking people to design solutions. And the reason for that is very simple. I believe that the utilities, as well as the government, all have an interest in making sure that we are not in breach of contract on this issue. That we will have to find some way to deal with this problem."

Some might say they will, indeed, have to find a way to "deal with the problem." On Jan. 31, 1997, DOE was served with another U.S. Court of Appeals suit (State of Michigan, No. 97-1065, et al., D.C. Cir.). Some 46 states and utility commissions and more than 30 utilities sued to compel the DOE to honor its legal duty to accept the waste by Jan. 31, 1998.

If the waste isn't accepted, the suit asks that Nuclear Waste Fund payments (about $600 million nationwide each year) be placed into escrow.

Meanwhile, at the committee hearing, senators questioned the DOE's international policies to stop nuclear proliferation in light of its domestic spent fuel policy.

Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.): "We have the ability and technology and the scientific data to be able to move and store and transport foreign, high-level nuclear waste because that's politically acceptable, but we don't have the ability to move or transport or store low-level nuclear waste because that's politically unacceptable (em Is that what you're saying?"

Grumbly: "The fuel that we're bringing back from abroad is ours to begin with. It was our material, and when President Eisenhower sent it overseas, he promised he would take it back."

The fears of the senators opposing interim storage echoed the comments of Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.). "If this interim dump is established, there will never be a Yucca Mountain," he said. "Never. The utilities drive this debate. What they want is simply to remove the waste from current sites. They could care less where it goes, how it gets there, what the ultimate repository is once they get their temporary facility."

Estimates to complete Yucca Mountain's permanent repository run to $28 billion and as high as $50 billion. There are about 31,000 metric tons of nuclear waste stored in pools or in dry casks in 41 states, much of it at the nation's 109 commercial

reactors. The amount grows by about 2,500 tons per year.

One of those testifying before the panel, Jared L. Cohon, chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, indicated there was no pressing need for an interim site.

According to his written testimony about S. 104: "A centralized storage facility will be needed. Planning for it should begin immediately. However, there are no compelling technical or safety reasons to move spent fuel ... for the next few years."

Cohon also noted that developing a storage facility requires a transportation system; currently the country has the capacity to transport only a