Out-of-state home for Hanford waste may get new life

Congressmen, including Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., second from left, arrive at the south portal of Yucca Mountain, Nev., for a tour in 2015.
Congressmen, including Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., second from left, arrive at the south portal of Yucca Mountain, Nev., for a tour in 2015. Associated Press

The U.S. House passed legislation to move forward with the licensing of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository for high level radioactive waste on Tuesday.

The repository would give the Hanford nuclear reservation a place to dispose of high level radioactive waste encased in glass logs at the Hanford vitrification plant, as well as used nuclear fuel left from producing plutonium at Hanford for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The vote was 340 to 72.

However, the legislation could have a tougher time in the U.S. Senate.

The Energy Communities Alliance said that its fate is less certain there, with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., opposing the bill. His seat is considered to be one of the more vulnerable Republican seats in the mid-term elections this fall, the alliance said.

"The House's approval of this legislation is an important step forward for the federal government to fulfill its promise to clean up defense nuclear waste currently being stored on the Hanford Site," said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

The Obama administration terminated efforts to construct the repository, but the Trump administration has stated its commitment to get the project back on track, Newhouse said in a speech on the floor of the House.

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress as the site of the nation's repository for the high level radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel from the nation's defense programs, and also used fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.

The federal government is legally required to collect and dispose of used nuclear fuel, including from the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, the Northwest's only nuclear power plant.

"Earlier this year we marked a troubling milestone — 20 years of government failure to meet its legal obligation to take possession of used fuel," said Maria Korsnick, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Electricity customers have contributed more than $40 billion to a fund to finance a fuel disposal program, and U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $6 billion in damages.

"What have they received from the federal government for the paying of these fees?" Newhouse asked. "Absolutely nothing — not one ounce of waste has been collected."

The House legislation includes provisions intended to protect ratepayers' previous investment and assure that long-term funding is available for the repository project.

The bill also would:

​Authorize the Department of Energy to contract with a private company to store nuclear fuel.

​ Address financial support associated with a nuclear waste management system for states that are the site of a repository or interim storage facility, including allowing local communities to negotiate directly with the federal government.

​ Remove potential impediments to license approval for the Yucca Mountain site by clarifying certain regulatory and permitting requirements.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews