Moniz Reveals DOE Progress for Nuclear Waste

At a keynote address at CERAweek 2014 in Houston, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reiterated the Obama administration’s support for all U.S. fuel sources while pursuing a low-carbon future but rarely mentioned nuclear power. Prompted by POWERnews, Moniz later outlined the administration’s actions to address spent nuclear waste. 

Following the D.C. Circuit’s ruling in November 2013 to scrap an annual fee to cover the cost of permanent waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, Moniz noted he had this January sent Vice President Joe Biden a proposal asking Congress to adjust the nuclear waste fee to zero from its current one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour. Congress is expected to act on the proposal this week.

Consent is Key

Moniz on Wednesday also told POWERnews that the administration’s “bigger picture” tactics on nuclear waste were modeled on its January 2013–unveiled strategy, which calls for a phased, consent-based approach to siting and implementing a nuclear waste management and disposal system, and it endorses building a pilot interim storage facility by 2021. That strategy is based on recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission, “which I served on,” noted Moniz.

“The idea here is that first of all, the administration continues to believe that Yucca Mountain is not a workable solution, and that is related very closely to highest recommendation of the commission, namely that a robust nuclear spent fuel disposal approach will require consent of the chain from the community, to the state, to the federal government,” he said.

But Moniz added that in his “personal view,” the U.S. should “always have been pursuing in parallel, geological repository development and consolidated storage of spent fuel, as opposed to the idea of leaving it for long times at reactors.” If the federal government was going to take responsibility for spent fuel, “we should move it from reactors and consolidate it under, most likely, federal control.”

The administration also believes that building a pilot-scale, interim storage facility that will accommodate spent fuel for reactors that have already been shut down should be addressed “independently of the question to build a repository,” Moniz said. “That’s something that we are working on, hopefully to move in Congress this year or next year.”

A Gas and Grid Focus

The head of the Department of Energy (DOE), in his keynote address, noted that the economic impact from the natural gas boom “has been tremendous.” He said the energy revolution “has led the erection of the ladders of opportunity in terms of creating very good jobs in the economy.” Natural gas has also improved energy security and decreased carbon emissions, he said.

Moniz also said the Quadrennial Energy Review this year will attempt to address bottlenecks and modernization efforts of energy infrastructure to deal with expected incidences of extreme weather and cyberattacks. The 21st century grid will need to accommodate large-scale renewables and more efficiently manage load.

“Can’t say too much,” Moniz said, “but the majority of cyberthreats in the U.S. have involved energy infrastructure.” The DOE is working closely with the electric sector, including “to some degree providing some classified information that we think is essential for building situational awareness in the industry as to how we will address cyber,” he said.

In a discussion about new technology, Moniz said the DOE will continue to back, through loan guarantees, utility-scale photovoltaics and lower emission fossil fuel technologies, to include carbon capture, advanced combined heat and power, or renewable thermal hybrids.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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