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CSG Midwest gives region's lawmakers the chance to have voice heard on future of U.S. nuclear waste policy

by Ilene Grossman ~ November 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
The Midwest has a big stake in America’s nuclear energy future.
Eight of the region’s 11 states rely on this power source for electrical generation, nuclear waste is currently being stored at reactors across the Midwest, and the region will be in the middle of any plans to transport the nation’s spent fuel to facilities for storage or permanent disposal.
At a meeting held on Oct. 28 in Minneapolis, CSG Midwest gave the region and its state leaders the chance to be heard on this important regional and national issue.
Several state lawmakers spoke and met with members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future — the federally chartered group leading efforts to develop a new strategy for managing the “back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle. The group was formed in 2010 following the Obama administration’s decision to abandon plans to build a national repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The commission has already issued a draft report; the purpose of the Minneapolis meeting was to seek public input in advance of its final recommendations.
“It is imperative that the states be active partners in this process — both planning and implementation — from the very beginning,” Indiana Sen. Beverly Gard said in her testimony at the meeting.
And any future federal strategy, she said, should be mindful of the need to pay for it via the Nuclear Waste Fund or other federal sources.
“The many states in fiscal crisis cannot absorb [additional] costs,” she said.
The meeting also gave lawmakers the chance to share their frustrations over the lack of progress on solving the nation’s storage problem.
“We’ve got a $10 billion hole in the ground that now we’re going to walk away from,” Minnesota Sen. John Howe said, referring to the amount of money spent on the Yucca Mountain project. (His legislative district includes the Prairie Island nuclear plant.)
Yucca “should not be off the table,” Howe said, but rather reconsidered as part of a science-based discussion over America’s nuclear future. Take politics out of the mix, he said, and Yucca becomes an attractive option again.
Two CSG Midwest committees co-sponsored the meeting in Minneapolis: the Midwestern Legislative Conference Energy Committee and CSG’s Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Committee.
Iowa Rep. Chuck Soderberg, co-chair of the MLC Energy Committee, told the federal commission that, over the past three decades, ratepayers in his state have put $450 million into the Nuclear Waste Fund — and have received “very little in return.”
“With the cancellation of [Yucca],” he said, “we are back to a situation where we are storing nuclear waste, long term, in facilities that were not built with the expectation of indefinite storage.”
Solving the storage problem becomes even more imperative if states make nuclear power a greater part of their fuel mix. That is a very real possibility, Soderberg said, because federal regulations are making coal-fired power plants more costly and nuclear energy is one of the few viable alternatives.
More than 80 people attended the workshop in Minneapolis, including Gard, Howe, Soderberg and three other state legislators representing the MLC: Kansas Rep. Carl Holmes, Minnesota Rep. Andrew Falk and Iowa Rep. Ralph Watts.
The commission’s final report will be released on Jan. 29. It will provide a detailed strategy on how to dispose of, store and transport spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. States will be watching closely, as will CSG Midwest through the work of its two policy committees.


Brief written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Energy Committee.