Biden nominee confirms opposition to Yucca Mountain

29 January 2021

The Biden Administration opposes the use of Yucca Mountain for the storage of used nuclear fuel and is committed to developing "safe and workable" alternatives, US President Joe Biden's nominee for the position of energy secretary has said. Jennifer Granholm made her remarks at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to consider her nomination, which was held on 27 January.

Jennifer Granholm during the live-streamed session

The former governor of Michigan told the committee that, as energy secretary, she would focus on three missions: the security of America through the National Nuclear Security Administration and clean-up of its Cold War legacy; supporting the "amazing" scientific work being done at the Department of Energy's national laboratories and other facilities across the country, including on climate change and emissions reductions; and taking that research to scale and deployment.

In a broadcast hearing lasting almost three hours Granholm faced questions from senators on a diverse range of issues related to the Department of Energy's (DOE) remit, including the cleanup mission at Hanford and the US mining of critical minerals including uranium, as well as her thoughts on Biden's decarbonisaton goals.

"I want to push on carbon management solutions to get to the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050," Granholm said. "There is a series of technologies that the Department of Energy is working on to reduce and manage carbon emissions and I think that is an important piece of the energy mix to make us energy secure and to have us reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050."

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming questioned Granholm on the programme instigated under the previous administration to set up a uranium reserve as a means of boosting the domestic production of uranium as a critical mineral. The USA currently has to import some 90% of its uranium needs and its domestic production has dropped to levels not seen since the early 1950s, he said. "It is critical we maintain the ability to produce and process our own nuclear energy - it's our largest source of carbon-free electricity." DOE requested and Congress last year approved funding the establishment of such a reserve. "If confirmed will you complete that reserve this year?" he asked.

"I will certainly act upon the instruction of Congress," Granholm replied.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada questionned Granholm on the question of Yucca Mountain. "The Administration opposes the use of Yucca Mountain for the storage of nuclear waste," Granholm said. She would "absolutely" commit the department to working with Congress to develop safe and workable alternatives, she added.

Yucca Mountain has since 1987 been named in the US Nuclear Waste Policy Act as the sole initial repository for disposal of the country's used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes. The DOE submitted a construction licence application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008, but the Obama Administration subsequently decided to abort the project, appointing a high-level Blue Ribbon Commission to come up with alternative strategies. However, in June 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the DOE's motion to withdraw the licence application.

Granholm said the issue of the disposal of used nuclear fuel - which remains in storage at operating and shutdown reactor sites - is a "sticky situation", saying, "We have to maybe look at what the Blue Ribbon Commission did on this, which was to engage in some consensus-based strategies that allow us to determine where that waste should go."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News