Cantwell: New Bill Should Include Clear Disposal Plan for Hanford Defense Nuclear Waste
Cantwell: ‘It’s unacceptable to our state and my constituents to think that Hanford is just going to end up being that repository’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for a new Senate nuclear waste bill to include a specific plan for disposing defense nuclear waste. Her comments came during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013.
The legislation – introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on June 27, 2013 – is designed to follow the recommendation of President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission to create a new Nuclear Waste Administration and use a consent-based process for locating permanent repositories and interim storage sites. Cantwell urged that the legislation prevent Hanford from ending up as a long-term storage site for waste.
“So I think your legislation takes an important step forward in calling out defense waste,” said Cantwell at today’s hearing. “I think it should go further, that defense is not an afterthought. We need this to be a central part of the discussion. And so that’s what I would be looking for in this legislation. And to me, it’s unacceptable to our state and my constituents to think that Hanford is just going to end up being that repository for that vast amount of high-level defense waste.”
View video of Cantwell’s statement at today’s hearing here.
Cantwell also questioned Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on prioritizing defense waste and separating it from commercial waste due to upcoming milestones at Hanford. Secretary Moniz assured Cantwell that he was looking into the issue and would have a study in 2-3 months that would assess whether separating defense and commercial waste would be better than continuing to commingle them.
Senator Cantwell asked: “Well I appreciate that before you said the relook was necessary. And since your Hanford visit – and you see the urgency – having a plan that’s cohesive with the defense waste that is going to be processed and a place for storage – those are real near-term dates. And would you agree: a great challenge to us, as opposed to the commercial issues? Which are longer and separate, can be separate issues as it relates to the science and storage?”
Secretary Moniz replied: “Look, we’re very committed to the high-level waste movement as well as the spent fuel. And at Hanford, we have every intention of… this both the things in the future like the WTP waste that will be made into glass. There’s also other things like K Basin fuel that’s been repackaged currently on the Central Plateau. So we need to have a place to move all of this, and again, we will come back with the results of our comingling study probably in a couple months, 2-3 months.”
Cantwell has been a leader in demanding the Department of Energy (DOE) stick to established deadlines and develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the unique challenge defense nuclear waste presents. In September 2012, during an ENR Committee hearing, Cantwell said she would need to see an explicit disposal plan for defense-related nuclear waste from Hanford and other sites before supporting any new legislation designed to address the nation’s nuclear waste problem. Cantwell made the case that the nation’s nuclear waste policy should address the disposal of defense nuclear waste and commercial nuclear waste separately. Doing so would help expedite the removal of high-level defense waste, about 90 percent of which is at Hanford. Click here to watch an archived web video of the September 2012 hearing. Cantwell’s comments start at 1:02:56 and again at 1:22:51.
During Dr. Ernest Moniz’s confirmation hearing to be Energy Secretary earlier this year in April, Cantwell asked Dr. Moniz if military nuclear waste should be addressed separately from commercial waste in any disposal plan, to which he said he would “push for that evaluation” and “relook” at the issue if confirmed. Dr. Moniz noted that the issue was discussed extensively when he served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, but that the final report failed to address defense-related waste
In February 2012, Cantwell pressed then-DOE Secretary Steven Chu on whether the disposal of military waste could be prioritized over commercial waste. She also asked him about the possibility of disposing Hanford waste at the Waste Isolation Plant Project (WIPP) facility in New Mexico. Secretary Chu responded that he thought it would be “prudent” to treat civilian and military waste differently, and that further studies would need to be done to determine if WIPP could be a safe repository for high-level waste.
Also in February 2012, during an ENR hearing, Cantwell questioned the co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future about their final report’s failure to deal with defense-related waste. Click here to watch a video of Cantwell’s exchange with the Blue Ribbon Commission co-chairs.
The Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, released in late January 2012, addresses how best to manage the nation’s nuclear waste. However, the report only focused on commercial nuclear waste from power plants and did not address what to do with defense-related waste specifically. Commission co-chairs, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and General Brent Scowcroft, and Commission member and former Senator Pete Domenici all testified at the February 2012 hearing. Both chairmen agreed that Hanford waste was a priority and had urged the Administration to launch an immediate review of how to address defense waste.
Senator Cantwell’s statement and questions to Energy Secretary Moniz follow.
Senator Cantwell: Thank you Mr. Chairman. And thanks for holding this hearing and trying to get a bipartisan approach to this with the Ranking Member Senator Murkowski. I appreciate your focus both on civilian and defense waste. And I think you mentioned something earlier, before I got here – we were at a Commerce Committee Markup – and about this very issue as it related to your legislation. So I think your legislation takes an important step forward in calling out defense waste.
I think it should go a little further, that defense is not an afterthought – that we don’t go through this whole process again with the Blue Ribbon Commission approach of dialoguing and then come to the end and it’s kind of a footnote. We need this to be a central part of the discussion. And so that’s what I would be looking for in legislation.
People know that Hanford in Washington state continues to make progress on an incredibly complex and costly endeavor Thank you Mr. Secretary for visiting that site. But we need an endpoint and a place for the recovered high-level waste to go. And to me, it’s unacceptable to our state and my constituents to think that Hanford is just going to end up being that repository for that vast amount of high-level defense waste.
So earlier this year the Department of Energy determined that 6 of the single-shell waste tanks at Hanford are leaking radioactive and hazardous materials into the ground. And so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, Mr. Secretary. But to me, establishing a disposal site to isolate the high-level defense waste is the best, most comprehensive, cost-effective way to deal with the immediate problem of a plan for the high-level waste out of the these tanks.
And to have that comprehensive plan and make sure that we have revisited this issue of comingling and come to a decision and hopefully then have this plan for defense waste updated every five years so that we’ve addressed this problem.
So first I guess my question is: Do you think our nation should have an explicit plan on dealing with the defense waste? And how do we make sure it doesn’t get lost in the debate this time around?
Ernest Moniz, Secretary of the Department of Energy: Senator Cantwell, I certainly agree that we need a plan for high-level waste. I think we will have a plan for high-level waste. The question of comingling or not comingling as the approach is one that we are studying right now, as recommended by the commission and by the administration’s strategy. And specifically I would say endorsed by S 1240. So we think this is a very important study to do. We expect to have results for you in the fall on that.
Senator Cantwell: That would explicitly re-evaluate whether separating them is the right?
Secretary Moniz: It would look at all the factors involved in terms of comingling or no. Recognizing that there are somewhat different waste forms, but technically they probably could be stored together. So, many factors, and we are bringing them together in an ongoing study.
Senator Cantwell: Well I appreciate that before you said the relook was necessary. And since your Hanford visit – and you see the urgency – having a plan that’s cohesive with the defense waste that is going to be processed and a place for storage – those are real near-term dates. And would you agree: a great challenge to us, as opposed to the commercial issues? Which are longer and separate, can be separate issues as it relates to the science and storage?
Secretary Moniz: Look, we’re very committed to the high-level waste movement as well as the spent fuel. And at Hanford, we have every intention of… this both the things in the future like the WTP waste that will be made into glass. There’s also other things like K Basin fuel that’s been repackaged currently on the Central Plateau. So we need to have a place to move all of this, and again, we will come back with the results of our comingling study probably in a couple months, 2-3 months.
Senator Cantwell: Again, Mr. Chairman this will be a speaking point for me on this legislation. But I really appreciate you and Senator Murkowski’s leadership on a bipartisan effort. Thank you.
Secretary Moniz: Mr. Chairman? May I just make an editorial remark? I just wanted to say – with both of you here – that my trip to Hanford was very interesting from seeing all the challenges that we have. But I guess I wanted to add that not having been there in quite a few years – at least not with the vision of someone at the Department of Energy – I have to say that we also should not lose sight of the fact, I was very impressed with the amount of progress that was made as well at the site since that last time. And I think that sometimes we lose sight of that fact. And being able to have renewed access to large parts of the Columbia River that goes through the site in 2015 and 2016, I mean, it’s very encouraging. So this in no way minimizing the huge challenge that we still have but I do want to also say that I was impressed as well by the progress. The plutonium finishing plant is well along in being removed and the new groundwater pumping program for chromium – I thought it was actually also uplifting at least in those ways.
Senator Cantwell: I know my time is expired Mr. Chairman. But I would just say thank you for those comments. And that begets the point – that as we debate this commercial issue we are going to make progress. DOE’s going to hold them accountable to this timeline. And then we’re going to be sitting there with all of this waste in need of a repository that could be answered and dealt with. Just as we have isolated these various projects around the country and made progress or the sites within Hanford and made progress – DOE could make significant project on defense waste with a plan.
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