US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was recently called to testify before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, now chaired by Lamar Alexander (Republican ‒ Tennessee) and ranking minority member Diane Feinstein (Democrat ‒ California).1 These two have participated in rare bi-partisanship on Capitol Hill in their effort to support their mutual friends: corporations that generate nuclear waste.
Alexander is even getting good at promoting nuclear energy as the prime solution to the climate crisis and labeling anyone opposed to moving the irradiated fuel rods from the reactor sites as "climate deniers." He has learned to speak of "signals" and that Congress and the Department of Energy (DOE) must signal that it will take the waste in order for corporations to decide to build more reactors, which he says are the only climate solution.
In answer to a series of questions from Feinstein, Moniz basically affirmed his DOE's charade: that it can, unilaterally, move ahead on creating "consent-based" consolidated storage sites (what we call a Parking Lot Dump) identical to the technology in use for dry storage at reactor sites ... but out in the middle of the "nowhere" of Texas, New Mexico and South Carolina.
These areas have inhabitants, who have not been asked at all if they "consent" to taking the nation's worst waste at sites that are designed for decades, at best, with no plan for how the waste will ever move again. It is the nuclear contractors who have "consented"! The people of the communities of Hobbs / New Mexico, Aiken / South Carolina, August / Georgia and Andrews County / Texas all have what Moniz does not: a future. Moniz and the entire Obama Administration gang will be exiting 1000 Independence Avenue by January 20, 2017.
So, not too much store should be given to the pronouncements in the hearing, nonetheless Moniz tipped his hand on a startling new theory: that the DOE can use its procurement authority to move ahead on contracting with private contractors to provide storage for commercial waste. While it may be true that the DOE has the ability to set up a contract, it remains unclear that it has the authority to take ownership of the waste and move it. One can congratulate Moniz on his slippery answers to the good Senator from California since he said DOE would need more work on "transportation of the waste" without sending the signal (per Alexander) in public that a change in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is needed.
Given the coming Lame Duck Congress it is entirely possible that the DOE intends, as has happened repeatedly in the past, to sneak some small wording to make this change into another bill. US readers living in major urban transport are encouraged to call your congress members and warn them of this possibility ‒ and remind them that moving the waste would be a local Main Street issue.
"We all live in Nevada" was a cry of the 1990s; now we all live in the nuclear zones of Texas, New Mexico, South Carolina, or any other area at risk for consolidated storage, and also at all the closed reactor sites. We are one community. This is a value that we have built over the last four decades.
2017 is bringing other changes too: Harry Reid (Democrat ‒ Nevada) is retiring. Harry has been a one-man "Yucca Mountain-Protector" who, I think, has made Corbin Harney, the spiritual leader of the Western Shoshone Nation (who passed in 2007), proud. Reid has done more than any other person to stop Yucca Mountain. Yucca is a site that would fail the mission of waste isolation and thanks to Harry and many of us, and so many others, including Presidents Obama and Clinton, thankfully no waste there. Reid retires when Congress adjourns and we encourage you to send a thank-you card! Senator Harry Reid, 600 East William Street #304, Carson City, NV 89701 USA.
We as a community must keep these commitments! There is a lot of work ahead. In June the Nuclear Information and Resource Service convened a group of "planners" for a radwaste summit. This event is not outreach ‒ it is "in-reach" for activists who are committed (recently and long-term both) to finding ways to work together to prevent really bad waste plans. The event will be Dec. 2‒4 in Chicago. For more information, contact the author (firstname.lastname@example.org, ph. 828-252-8409).
1. Sept. 14 hearing of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, video and posted written testimony: www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/hearing-titled-the-future-of-nucl...