The commission is required to release its first report in June 2011. But, apparently, it
, is not acting quickly enough for some members of Congress.
Earlier this year, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) called for a “nuclear renaissance” and introduced S. 3322 to establish the United States Nuclear Fuel Management Corporation. The new organization would “assume responsibility for the activities, obligations, and use of resources of the federal government with respect to spent nuclear fuel management.” He introduced the bill without regard for the information being collected by the BRC or its future recommendations.
S. 3322 as it currently stands would usurp the current Secretary of Energy’s oversight of the Nuclear Waste Fund and the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Additionally, it would be charged with administering the high-level radioactive waste disposal program, which is currently primarily under DOE’s jurisdiction. Far from Voinovich’s claim of creating “a successful framework for addressing the question of where to safely place used nuclear fuel,” this legislation would essentially overhaul the manner in which the nuclear industry operations are overseen at the federal level.
The legislation has transparent ties to the nuclear industry. When announcing the legislation, Voinovich touted that it was supported by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Nuclear Society, and the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the same companies that make up the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council also made major contributions to Voinovich’s campaign. According to Federal Election Commission records, members of the organization gave the senator over $130,000 in campaign contributions. Including donations made by other key players in the American nuclear industry, he has received more than $180,000 from these corporations.
Sproat, who formerly worked for DOE, articulated the danger of mingling stakeholders with the decision-making process. In September, he asserted, “We have organizations where their performance in the nuclear fleet operations area was abysmal, and within three years they became industry leaders, and the corporate structure never changed.” This is coming from an individual who was embedded in the contract process surrounding the country’s nuclear waste management. If he is right, the legislation is headed in a wrong and potentially dangerous direction.
However, some commissioners of the Blue Ribbon Commission appear to support the legislation, begging the question: are they truly nonpartisan representatives of the public or are they already in the pockets of the nuclear industry? While explaining an approach to an effective waste management organization, Commissioner Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics at MIT, said, “Our [MIT’s] observationleads us to recommend a quasi-government waste management organization.” Commissioner Sharp went on to support this perspective, urging for “some other institutional framework to do it and get it off the government books somehow, out of politics.” Apparently in an effort to reduce the influence of Washington politics on the nuclear waste industry, the solution is to radically remove the responsibility from the government to a new corporation with the influence of stakeholders institutionalized.
Removing government oversight, or “interference” as some aptly described it at the BRC meeting, raises several warning flags.
How is it that some members of the BRC, who have heard the testimony of these experts with regard to reprocessing, and who are in the midst of assessing whether or not legislative action in this very area is necessary, already support it? It explicitly states in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s charter to include in their report, “a set of recommendations regarding policy and management, and any advisable changes in law.” Senator Voinovich’s legislation usurps the BRC legislative mandate. When he first announced the bill, Voinovich wrote a letter to President Obama “requesting that the White House join them in hosting a nuclear energy summit to bring together key leaders, stakeholders and innovators to discuss and plan for America’s nuclear energy future.” Interesting request, as almost five months’ prior, the President asked Secretary of Energy Chu to construct just such a group, which has an annual operating budget of $5 million.
The pressing issue of addressing nuclear waste management in the United States has remained a component of the BRC discussions from the first meeting. As Commissioner Carnesale eloquently stated this September, “radioactive waste is unambiguously a burden.” With millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste sitting at the Savannah River Site, just one of several DOE sites, the BRC is supposed to recommend a solution to this problem.
For more on reprocessing, watch our video report on the Blue Ribbon Commission below: