By Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter
and Rep. Joe Wilson
As members of Congress, one of our top responsibilities is holding the federal government accountable and ensuring we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Unfortunately, the federal government is failing the people of South Carolina, Georgia, and citizens all across the country who have paid billions of dollars into what is known as the Nuclear Waste Fund.
This fund was set up to provide a way to pay for a permanent and safe solution for the disposal of the byproducts from utilizing nuclear technologies for commercial and defense purposes. Despite billions of dollars and decades of studies, the Department of Energy has not held up its end of the bargain and fulfilled its legal obligations to ratepayers across the nation.
The United States has generated radioactive waste dating back to the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons used to help win World War II. Known as spent fuel or high-level waste, these byproducts of our nuclear defense programs are generated from the U.S. Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier propulsion systems and leftover waste from maintaining a stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Additionally, the byproduct of commercially generating nuclear power is what’s known as spent nuclear fuel. Currently, this nuclear material is dispersed throughout 39 states and 121 communities across the country waiting for the construction of a disposal facility.
The Savannah River Site located on the South Carolina-Georgia border houses a significant amount of radioactive material. Much of this waste was generated by nuclear weapons production during the Cold War and was intended to be disposed with commercially generated spent nuclear fuel.
In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) to set a formal process to dispose of this waste permanently; however, this permanent disposal has not yet occurred, 35 years later.
In 1987, Congress designated the Yucca Mountain site as the location for the nation’s only deep, geologic repository for high-level defense waste. Located 1,000 feet underground in the Nevada desert, it has been verified that the Yucca Mountain site could safely store spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste one million years.
However, despite decades of continued bipartisan support, numerous studies, and DOE’s submission of an application to authorize construction of Yucca Mountain, the Obama administration blocked the project from moving forward.
Just in Georgia and South Carolina alone, ratepayers have already paid nearly $5 billion into the federal Nuclear Waste Fund to dispose of commercial spent nuclear fuel. On top of that, American taxpayers have invested over $3.7 billion into Yucca Mountain through our national defense budget to pay for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste.
In total, American ratepayers and taxpayers have invested over $40 billion into a permanent disposition path and have nothing to show for it.
Enough is enough. That’s why the House Energy and Commerce Committee is hard at work on a permanent solution, with the environmentally sound Yucca Mountain as the cornerstone of our nuclear waste management policy. This legislation, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would focus the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste management activities on successful completion of the Yucca mountain license application. Clearly, completing Yucca Mountain provides the safest and most efficient way to finally remove the high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel from communities around the country.
It’s time for the people of Georgia, South Carolina and across this country see a return on our investment in the form of a permanent geologic repository that houses both high-level waste and spend nuclear fuel. That’s Yucca Mountain, and we’re working hard to make good on our word to the American people.
Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter represents Georgia’s First Congressional District. Rep. Joe Wilson represents South Carolina’s Second Congressional District.