John A. Bewick is Fortnightly’s contributing editor. He formerly was secretary of environmental affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and holds graduate degrees in nuclear science and business management.
Before retiring from his three-term Senate career last year, George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced legislation that, if enacted, would completely transform the way we deal with spent nuclear fuel in the United States.
The Voinovich bill (S.3322)—and a companion bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—would establish the United States Nuclear Fuel Management Corp., following the so-called “Fed Corp” model of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
While the Fed Corp approach has detractors, it offers a novel solution for a problem that lacks politically viable options. Until the country finds long-term answers, spent fuel will represent a growing headache for operators of existing nuclear facilities—and a serious challenge to new development on a substantial scale.
Both issues affect Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG), which owns and operates three nuclear plants in New York and Maryland. Last fall Constellation withdrew from the Unistar joint venture that was working to add a new reactor at CENG’s Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant. But nevertheless, the company is eager to see America’s spent-fuel dilemma finally resolved, such that CENG President and CEO Henry B. (Brew) Barron testified before the DOE’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) to support the Voinovich bill and its objectives.