I share the concerns of Drs. Robert Gould, Harry Wang and Jimmy Hara about the safety and public health implications of storing radioactive nuclear waste at power plants around the country ("Nuclear waste bill endangers public health"; Viewpoints, July 20). Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, I have encouraged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer nuclear waste from spent fuel pools to dry casks.
But the writers misrepresent a bipartisan bill I recently introduced with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; to expedite waste removal from at-risk locations and decommissioned plants.
Here are the facts:
The United States currently lacks a nuclear waste policy.
We have no facility to consolidate spent nuclear fuel, leaving fuel rods stored at commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including states like California that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.
Our bill establishes a nuclear waste policy employing a consent-based approach that creates both interim storage facilities and permanent repositories where waste will be stored in dry casks. By creating consolidated sites using a standard cask, these facilities will incentivize utilities to move waste out of pools.
Taxpayers have already shouldered $2.6 billion in payments for the federal government's failure to accept spent nuclear fuel, as it pledged to do in 1998. That liability will grow to $20 billion by 2020, then increase $400 million every year.
Removing and relocating spent nuclear fuel won't happen overnight; it is a complicated and dangerous process. But our plan is indeed "health-protective legislation" that safely stores this material and makes the United States less vulnerable to unanticipated threats.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.