John Herron is the President, CEO and Chief Nuclear Officer for Entergy. He shares some thoughts following his appearance last week before the Blue Ribbon Commission Subcommittee:
I recently had the opportunity to address the Transportation and Storage Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Our industry has some challenges to overcome and one of those at the top of my list is addressing the issue of long-term nuclear fuel and waste storage.
My company and the nuclear energy industry are concerned about these major issues:
- The United States should change the way in which it is storing used nuclear fuel and high-level waste. One or more final disposal locations need to be established. The status quo is not acceptable. The storage facilities for nuclear spent fuel and waste should be run by either federal corporations or a private entity.
- The Department of Energy and the Department of Justice need to meet their obligations for fuel storage and make the utilities and their customers whole according to current laws and contracts. American taxpayers have contributed more than $34 billion into a waste fund. Ongoing lawsuits between the utilities and the government regarding defaulting on obligations and use of funds must be addressed.
- Decommissioned nuclear power sites should be returned to productive use or natural sites and not continue to house nuclear fuel.
In looking forward for our industry, specific issues must be considered. The responsible entity for fuel and waste storage must be insulated from changing political winds. The “federal corporation” concept as presented by Senator Voinovich and Congressman Upton and discussed in previous meetings of the Commission has merit and should be fully vetted and investigated. The nuclear waste funds collected from consumers must be dedicated to the purposes for which they were intended and the entity in charge must have control of how dollars are spent.
Additional legislation and study is needed to pave the way. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act Section 148 must be amended to allow for licensing of volunteer centralized storage sites. Transportation of radiological waste already occurs regularly; however, additional transportation study and routes would need to be completed, with input sought from stakeholders and emergency responders along these routes.
The nuclear energy industry will eventually need a permanent repository. In full support of the position of the Nuclear Energy Institute and others of my industry, the Yucca Mountain license application review should continue. Whether Yucca Mountain itself ever opens or not, the application review can provide valuable lessons learned for the permanent repository ultimately identified and licensed.
While we support and join in the overall goals of the government of keeping safety and security the top priority of our business, the increasing costs of fuel storage and growing uncertainty make it difficult to run a nuclear generation business, especially in the unregulated portion of our portfolio. We cannot formulate multi-year business plans based on revenues from sales of electricity or sell forward that power into markets if we cannot predict the cost imposed by regulation or the lack of policy in terms of major costs like used fuel storage.
A national demonstration project or projects are needed to assess the overall logistics associated with transportation and storage of used fuel. Such a program could build public and regulatory confidence in the ability of government and the industry to manage used nuclear fuel by demonstrating transportation and storage arrangements. A demonstration project could also provide for additional technical insights on cask design, performance, and management as the department develops its plan for packaging and transportation.
In answering the question of the Commission, yes, a new plan for temporary storage of used nuclear fuel needs to be created. High-level waste needs to be moved to centralized regional storage locations.
The technology and the experience are there. Now is the time to make it happen with the establishment of a federal corporation or a private entity. The nation’s decommissioned sites can be returned to natural space or productive use once the government upholds its responsibility.
And finally, the nuclear energy industry must have certainty in planning and investment for nuclear fuel storage.
Entergy owns and operates 11 nuclear generating units in seven states and provides management services for a twelfth nuclear plant in Nebraska. Entergy also provides decommissioning and license renewal services and is the second largest nuclear energy generator in the United States.