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February 12, 2015

As Nuclear Waste Lingers in Maine, King Presses Energy Secretary to Develop Long-Term Strategy to Store Spent Fuel

King also encouraged nation’s top energy official to maintain R&D efforts to help drive down energy prices around the nation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) pressed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to develop a long-term strategy to safely transport and store waste from retired nuclear power plants, like Maine Yankee in Maine where more than one thousand spent nuclear fuel rods remain, costing Mainers millions of dollars per year and posing threats to the area’s safety and security.

“As you know, we’ve been through a long period – 50, 60, 70 years – of not knowing what to do with nuclear waste. I understand there’s a company based in Dallas that is looking towards at least an intermediate level storage. That would be a big improvement,” Senator King said. “We’ve now got what amounts to 100 plus high level nuclear storage sites all over the country, one of which is in Maine, and we’d like to get rid of that stuff. Is this a priority to work towards a high-level nuclear waste storage facility?”

Secretary Moniz responded, “It is a priority to work towards a whole nuclear waste disposal system, both from the commercial nuclear power plants and from our own defense waste from the weapons program.” He also noted that last year the Energy Department worked with the committee to create an initial pilot storage facility while, at the same time, it works to develop geological isolation capabilities needed for long-term storage.

Maine’s electric-utility ratepayers spent approximately $75 million to build the current storage facility in Wiscasset and then approximately $9 million per year on security and maintenance, about $82 million of which was reimbursed to Maine Yankee through a federal lawsuit against the Department of Energy in 2013. However, as long as the site exists, not only does it continue to be a drain on ratepayers, but it also poses national security and environmental risks. The U.S. Department of Energy was supposed to remove the spent fuel in 1998, but the plan was scrapped when the planned long-term storage facility in Yucca Mountain in Nevada was not completed.

In addition to urging Secretary Moniz to continue his support of offshore wind and tidal turbines, Senator King also recommended that the Department of Energy continue to expand its research and development efforts, citing the Department’s work in the development of hydraulic fracturing technology that has helped to lower energy prices for Americans and led to the current energy boom the country is experiencing.

“I don’t think your budget is big enough. Your research and development – the sort of energy and science part – is about $10 billion. That’s about one percent of our total discretionary budget,” Senator King said. “And just to give an example: the federal support for the development of the fracking technology has produced benefits that are just immeasurable in terms of our society – lower energy prices are enormously important. Twenty-one percent of the average family budget goes to energy, and a one dollar drop in the price of gasoline saves American taxpayers $138 billion a year. It’s like a gigantic tax cut.

“I don’t think we’re spending enough on research and development,” Senator King continued. “Let’s keep going with the research and development. I think it’s an essential federal function that this department has done well over the years.”


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