A trio of recently introduced bills before the U.S. House of
Representatives could help unlock meaningful, long-term employment for IBEW
members in Nevada — and beyond.
|IBEW Director of Political and Legislative Affairs Austin Keyser told a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday that the union supports congressional efforts to move forward with allowing Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository to accept spent nuclear fuel for permanent storage.
“A critical piece to supporting the future of our nation’s nuclear sector, and the tens of thousands of family-supporting jobs that the nuclear industry creates, is opening a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel,” Director of Political and Legislative Affairs Austin Keyser told a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday. Nearly two decades after the original deadline to open a permanent repository, “ratepayers and workers are still waiting … to safely store over 80,000 metric tons of SNF sitting at 121 sites in 39 states across the country,” he said.
Keyser was one of five witnesses who were called to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, which is considering three bills intended to help finally move forward the longstanding plans to allow Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository to accept spent nuclear fuel for permanent storage.
“We believe a permanent repository is necessary to ensure the public’s support for the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors that we hope will come online in the near future, including small modular reactors,” Keyser said.
In 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act directed the Department of Energy to move spent nuclear fuel from temporary on-site storage facilities at commercial nuclear power plants and store it in a stable and lasting location. The department eventually designated Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano in the middle of a desert about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as its preferred site.
Delegates to the IBEW’s 35th International Convention in 1996 approved a resolution in support of emission- and carbon-free nuclear energy and of such a national nuclear waste disposal facility. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, scores of Las Vegas Local 357 inside wiremen worked alongside members of the other building trades on and in the mountain, performing electrical maintenance on tunneling machines, wiring lights and upgrading fire prevention and alarm systems.
The actual process of transporting and storage of spent fuel that was supposed to begin in early 1998 never got started, however, largely because of opposition from Nevada’s governors and residents, fueled largely by persistent myths and fears surrounding the safety of nuclear energy.
“We know that it’s safe. We know that IBEW members are in these facilities constantly. The high-water mark for industrial safety is at these facilities,” Keyser said. “These are the types of family-sustaining careers that Americans are looking for and policymakers should support.”
Nearly 15,000 IBEW members work full-time in more than 55 nuclear facilities, providing reliable baseload energy to communities across the U.S., Keyser said. Thousands more rotate through nuclear plants as maintenance and refueling support.
“We are the largest union in the nuclear industry,” said Keyser. “We represent most of the workers in nuclear generation. We have IBEW members doing core work, whether it’s in the plant operations, in electrical construction and capital improvements, and in the decommissioning of sites.”
Introduced within the past month, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act (H.R. 2699) and the Storage and Transportation of Residual and Excess Act (H.R. 3136) are both intended to get the spent fuel storage process moving again. The Spent Fuel Prioritization Act (H.R. 2995), introduced in May, calls for allowing the Department of Energy to begin construction of interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico that could handle spent fuel from decommissioned reactors. That fuel is currently being kept in what were only meant to be temporary on-site storage facilities, a stopgap strategy that is costing taxpayers and utility customers millions of dollars.
“The opening of interim storage facilities would allow for the redevelopment of shuttered nuclear plants,” Keyser said. “Many closed nuclear stations are ideal sites for future development of other forms of electrical generation, including renewables, due to the already existing electrical transmission infrastructure.”
If the myriad safety and political considerations surrounding Yucca Mountain can be resolved, hundreds of IBEW electricians could find work installing and maintaining the facility’s lighting and alarm systems and as well as on construction of buildings designed to accept canisters containing spent nuclear fuel.
“The IBEW would strongly prefer that Congress take action to open a permanent repository as soon as possible,” Keyser said, “but we recognize that providing authorization for interim facilities may be the best first step towards a necessary comprehensive solution.”
Also testifying were Nuclear Energy Institute President Maria Korsnick; Attorney Geoffrey Fettus with the Natural Resources Defense Council; Robert Halstead, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects; and Lake Barrett, former acting director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.