We are facing two simultaneous environmental crises: global warming and nuclear waste. Both threaten our right to a safe, secure, healthy, sustainable future. We need to phase out nuclear power and fossil fuels as rapidly as we can, and create a socially just and equitable transition to safe, clean, sustainable, 100% renewable energy.
Yet the nuclear industry and its allies in Congress and the White House are pushing a wide-ranging agenda to do just the opposite: waste precious time and money promoting nuclear power and dangerous radioactive waste schemes. This “Nuclear Relapse” agenda is the product of the Department of Energy’s collaboration with the nuclear industry, through the DOE’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, to create a strategic plan to expand nuclear power in the United States and internationally. The effort was consummated at a July 2018 meeting of the NEAC, and quickly resulted in the introduction of legislation to advance key elements of the strategic plan, including the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (S.3422) in September 2018.
While DOE has not published the strategic plan, NIRS is tracking legislation and federal agency actions that are consistent with it. We have also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to DOE, to obtain information about the plan and any connections between it and the White House’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia to sell nuclear reactors and infrastructure.
Nuking the Climate: The House and Senate are poised to vote on bills that would lay the groundwork for a massive, nationwide and global expansion of nuclear power by 2040. One bill would adopt the far-reaching “Nuclear Energy Strategic Plan” concocted by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the nuclear industry. The same bill would override federal purchasing rules to ensure that expansion by authorizing federal agencies to sign 40-year contracts to buy electricity from nuclear reactors, no matter the price. And, among other things, it would invest billions to create a massive facility at a federal lab for the nuclear industry to develop and test exotic nuclear reactor designs. The House and Senate are also considering a bill to generate more nuclear waste and divert taxpayer dollars from renewable energy by creating multi-billion-dollar tax breaks for aging reactors, as a subsidy for their continued operation and fuel purchases. A House bill would adopt the Nuclear Energy Strategic Plan, and require DOE to sponsor up to six “demonstration projects” involving the construction of exotic new reactor designs. Another bill would require the DOE to increase the production of more highly enriched uranium for new “advanced” reactor designs. This could increase the chances of nuclear weapons proliferation through demonstrating the feasibility of existing commercial enrichment technology to produce weapons-grade uranium.
- H.R.3306 / S.903 Nuclear Energy Leadership Act
- H.R.2314 / S. 1134 Nuclear Powers America Act of 2019
- H.R.3358 Advanced Nuclear Energy Technologies Act
- H.R.1760 Advanced Nuclear Fuel Availability Act
Deepening the Radioactive Waste Crisis: H.R. 2699, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019, would initiate mass shipments of nuclear waste throughout the country, from reactors to unsuitable sites in Nevada, New Mexico, and/or Texas. H.R. 2699 was approved by a major House committee in September, and a nearly identical bill passed the House by a wide margin in 2018. Other bills in the House and Senate would take similar measures. The nuclear industry and its Congressional allies are trying to determine which one has the best chance to be enacted.
- H.R.2699 / S.2917 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019
- S.1234 Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2019
- H.R.2995 Spent Fuel Prioritization Act of 2019
- H.R.3136 Storage and Transportation Of Residual and Excess Nuclear Fuel Act of 2019
Reducing Safety Inspections and Enforcement: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering major rollbacks of its safety enforcement programs, including reducing the number of inspections, and permitting the companies that own reactors to identify and assess the seriousness of safety violations themselves, reducing the NRC’s role in enforcing safety standards to that of an auditor.
Running Reactors into the Ground: NRC just authorized the sea-level-rise-threatened Turkey Point reactors on the Florida coast to operate for up to 80 years—without requiring safety inspections. The oldest reactors ever to operate in the world just turned 50 this year. NRC is considering such 80-year extensions for four more reactors, and is developing a streamlined process to review more in the future.
Lowering Radioactive Waste Standards: NRC is preparing to lower environmental standards for other types of radioactive waste. It is changing rules to permit the most intensely radioactive garbage—labeled “Greater-Than-Class-C” (GTCC)—and transuranic waste to be dumped in so-called low-level radioactive waste dumps. NRC also considered allowing some radioactive waste to be disposed of as regular trash, and even recycled, by creating a new legal category called “Very Low-Level Waste.” NRC set aside the proposal recently, but it could reopen the matter anytime. NRC and DOE have proposed similar measures several times since the 1980s.
Cutting Corners on Cleanup: NRC is preparing to gut the few remaining rules on the decommissioning and cleanup of closed reactors, leaving the public with no say over how radioactive sites are dismantled, cleaned up, and their vast wastes disposed of. NRC is also allowing utilities to “sell” closed reactors—and their billion-dollar decommissioning funds—to under-financed, inexperienced companies that will need to cut corners on cleanup to have any chance of turning a profit. The risks are high that these companies will deplete the decommissioning funds and abandon the sites before completing cleanup.