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Houston Chronicle: U.S. must better manage nuclear waste storage

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HOUSTON, June 26, 2017 | comments
By Reps. Bill Flores and Gene Green

Texas epitomizes our nation's energy abundance. From traditional oil and gas production to cutting-edge renewable energy technologies, everything really is bigger in Texas. As part of this critical energy mix, Texas' four nuclear reactors provide critical, clean and reliable "base-load" electricity for the state's residents and businesses, supplying about 9 percent of all electricity consumed throughout the state. Additionally, nuclear energy facilities support 1,950 high-paying and high-skilled Texas jobs.

Programs in nuclear energy at Texas schools, including Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at Austin and Rice University are training the next generation of scientists and innovators to ensure that nuclear energy remains a key component of both Texas and our nation's energy mix. In order to fully utilize nuclear power in the future, we must safely dispose of spent fuel.

In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to formalize a national policy to permanently dispose spent nuclear fuel. One fundamental policy enshrined in the law was that ratepayers who benefit from nuclear energy should pay for disposal costs. This tax on nuclear power, known as the "nuclear waste fee," was to be the source of funding to identify a repository, to then be studied, designed, licensed and operated.

Unfortunately, since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was enacted, a series of bureaucratic decisions have resulted in a broken financing mechanism that undermines the nation's nuclear waste management program and treats ratepayers in Texas and across the nation unfairly.

Over the past 35 years, American ratepayers have paid more than $40 billion, with Texans contributing over $1.6 billion, toward the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Yet, the nation still lacks a permanent repository, even after Congress in 1987 selected a remote location in the Nevada desert, the Yucca Mountain site, to serve as the nation's first repository. Due to arcane federal budget accounting rules, as the project has been delayed, the funding collected to pay for Yucca Mountain has been utilized to pay for spending on other, unrelated government programs.

This only tells half of the story. The federal government has not fulfilled its legal obligations to take ownership of the nation's spent nuclear fuel by the 1998 deadline mandated in law. As a result, in 2015 alone, American taxpayers spent more than $2 million dollars per day to pay for the costs of managing used fuel that is currently scattered across the country, including here in Texas. Additionally, taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $30 billion in additional legal costs related to spent nuclear fuel.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which we both serve, is committed to addressing this problem. Over the course of our tenure on the committee, we have heard from scores of expert witnesses about how to get our nation's nuclear waste management policy back on track to sustain and promote clean, efficient nuclear energy.

Currently, our committee is working on the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017. This legislation is intended to ensure that previously collected funding is available to pay for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, stop the redirection of ratepayer taxes being used to subsidize other government spending, and allow the federal government to open an interim storage facility to safely store spent nuclear fuel until the permanent repository at Yucca Mountain has opened.

For too long, Texans have paid the federal government and gotten nothing in return when it comes to nuclear power. We are committed to getting our nuclear waste management responsibilities back on track.

Green, a Democrat, represents Texas' Houston-area 29th Congressional District. Flores, a Republican, represents Texas' Bryan-area 17th Congressional District.

To view this column as published CLICK HERE.
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Tags: Energy

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