Honda: Administration’s Nuclear Power Plan Lacks Solution to Nuclear Waste Problem
(Washington, DC) Today, the Energy Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Science examined the economic realities of domestic nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies as well as the impact reprocessing would have on energy efficiency, nuclear waste management and weapons proliferation.
Witnesses before the Subcommittee represented a range of viewpoints on the economics of nuclear reprocessing. As Marvin Fertel of the Nuclear Energy Institute pointed out in his testimony, "Future reprocessing of used nuclear fuel is a worthy goal, but it must overcome several challenges before it can be used in the United States."
Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) added that if we are going to use the fuel, we must be prepared to deal with the waste. Mr. Honda’s opening statement follows and highlights key concerns raised at the hearing.
Rep. Honda: The timing of this hearing is critical, because recently the President has been talking more and more about encouraging the development of nuclear power for electricity generation.
As I noted at our previous hearing on nuclear fuel reprocessing, the original “plan” for our Nation's nuclear energy program was to recycle the fuel used in the reactors, to reduce the amount of material defined as waste and stretch the supply of available material needed for fuel.
The plan never took hold due to two principal factors: concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation and economics.
At our last hearing, we heard about some of the technical issues surrounding reprocessing and the nonproliferation implications of reprocessing. Today, I am hoping that the witnesses can help us get a handle on the economic viability of nuclear waste reprocessing, because if we are going to use the power, we must deal with the waste.
Up until now, it has not made economic sense to develop a domestic recycling capacity, partly because of the stagnation that developed in the U.S. nuclear energy construction program.
Also, the so-called "megatons to megawatts" program that takes Russian weapons-grade uranium and down-blends it to the lower concentrations needed for nuclear power reactors has helped to keep down the cost of reactor fuel, making reprocessing uneconomical.
If the Administration succeeds in increasing the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity over the next several decades, there will be significant consequences in terms of nuclear fuel demand and nuclear waste disposal.
On the one hand, the new demand for fuel may drive up the cost of fuel and make the economics of reprocessing as a means of supplying material for fuel more favorable. On the other hand, extended operations of existing reactors and any new reactors that are built will exceed Yucca Mountain’s capacity, leaving limited options for what to do with the waste.
Building a new repository would face significant siting and licensing challenges and is unlikely. Absent a new repository, our options are limited - on-site storage via dry casks is an option, but one which is inconsistent with the Federal Government’s commitment to take control of the waste.
Reprocessing is another answer, but it may well drive the cost of nuclear power above that of other fuel sources, making it economically noncompetitive without government subsidies.
It is critical that we determine what the true cost of dealing with the waste material from nuclear power plants is going to be before we follow the Administration’s plan to rely more heavily on nuclear power for electricity generation. And to do that, it is critical that we know how much reprocessing may cost. We need to understand the cost if we use today’s techniques, as well as how much we will need to spend on research to develop new techniques and how much those techniques will cost.
To pursue the President’s desire to expand the use of nuclear power without having a good idea of how we are going to deal with the waste and how much dealing with it will cost is unwise. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses what they believe the true costs of spent nuclear fuel reprocessing are and whether it will ever be a viable, economical alternative.
Thank you again, Madam Chairwoman, and I yield back the balance of my time.