Dave Lochbaum testified last week to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee as part of a hearing on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 (S. 1240). The bill is intended to create a process for dealing with spent nuclear fuel in the U.S., which has been piling up at nuclear reactor sites since the government has failed to open a geologic repository to store it.
In particular, the bill would create a pilot interim waste storage site for high-level nuclear waste from a dozen closed nuclear power plants, a follow-on interim facility for waste from currently operating plants, and a new oversight agency to manage the process. The idea is to begin to move spent fuel away from reactor sites into interim storage on its way to an eventual repository.
But it will take many years or decades to site and build one or more interim storage facilities. In the meantime large quantities of nuclear waste will remain at nuclear plants. Three quarters of it is currently in cooling pools, many of which are overcrowded.
In his testimony, Lochbaum urged the committee to include a provision in the bill that would increase safety at reactors while the fuel is waiting to be moved, by accelerating the transfer of spent fuel stored in crowded cooling pools at reactor sites into dry casks. Currently the bill does not require such a step.
In addition to increasing safety and security, transferring spent fuel into dry casks is a necessary step to getting the fuel into a transportable form, so it makes sense to do it sooner rather than later.