Life after Yucca Mountain: The time has come to reset US nuclear waste policy

After decades of inaction and stalemate, there are small but significant signs that the U.S. government may finally be ready to meet its legal commitment to manage and dispose of the more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel at 74 operating and shut-down commercial nuclear reactors sites in 35 states across the country. The signs of progress include:

  • Only a few weeks ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved bipartisan legislation to authorize the storage of used fuel at an NRC-licensed interim storage facility and provide funding for the development of a long-term repository.
  • Similar legislation has had hearings and is pending in the Senate, and less than a week after the House committee action Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a parallel bill to the House legislation and called on his colleagues for bipartisan support.
  • A comparable bill passed the House in the previous Congress by a vote of 340-72.
  • Congressional leadership on this issue includes Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate, as well as highly motivated members in the House.
  • The Trump administration’s last two budget proposals included funding for a spent fuel interim storage site, in addition to funding for Yucca Mountain. 
  • Two private entities have filed license applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct and operate consolidated interim storage facilities, and the NRC is moving forward to process these applications.


These actions reflect an increasing recognition that the management and disposal of used nuclear fuel is an issue that need to be addressed, particularly if nuclear power is going to have a role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.


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