The Department of Energy insists that it is applying its new principle of “consent-based siting” to both the Deep Borehole Field Test, which will involve no nuclear material, and to future nuclear waste dump projects. In other words, DOE promises that if locals don’t want either the Borehole experiment or an actual nuclear waste repository in their backyard, DOE won’t dig or dump there.
Some Spink County opponents of the Borehole experiment have noticed this March 2, 2016, hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, in which Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois tells Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz that seeking public approval for projects like this is illegal:
Now I want to move to boreholes for a second. You have strongly advocated for the development of boreholes to dispose of a small amount of DOE’s inventory of defense nuclear waste. This initiative is concurrent to your initiative to develop a, quote-unquote, “consent-based” siting process, which, as you know, contradicts the Nuclear Waste Policy Act — contradicts, or it is not in compliance with. There is no provision for this in the current law [Rep. John Shimkus, draft transcript of hearing, House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, 2016.03.02].
Note that Rep. Shimkus avidly supports nuclear energy. His home state of Illinois has six active nuclear power plants, more than any other state. Those plants hold their own nuclear waste in storage on site. Rep. Shimkus is fighting to move that waste out of Illinois and into Yucca Mountain. In the March 2 transcript, Rep. Shimkus hectors Secretary Moniz to give up on boreholes and reopen Yucca Mountain:
Here is my problem. When I taught high school, the executive branch, per the Constitution, is designed to enforce the laws of the land. We do that telling kids that they have agencies and Secretaries that help enforce the law. It is unfortunate that you have been part of an administration that is not enforcing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. And it is subverting the intent of the law. And it is particularly troubling in that this, quote-unquote, “consent-based” process, which you use to discourage, attack, obfuscate the long-term location of Yucca Mountain and use a State-based discussion where you now talk about boreholes, you try to ram it through county-based organizations without even a State-based discussion. So the Department of Energy continues to hypocritically move to obfuscate, delay, break the law. And I wish, for the sake of the republic, that the administration would abide by the law [Shimkus, 2016.03.02].
Rep. Shimkus is arguing against giving the public veto power over nuclear waste sites in favor of moving waste out of his state to a shuttered site out of state as quickly as possible. Rep. Shimkus was also opposed to letting Secretary Moniz respond to the Congressman’s interrogation. After a couple minutes of wrangling, Committee Chairman Ed Whitfield gave Secretary Moniz the mic:
I will just respond narrowly to the North Dakota borehole. That’s all I was responding to. I want to emphasize that the statement that this somehow is not consistent with a consent-based approach does not apply. This is not a nuclear facility. This is a scientific experiment which clearly may have, depending upon results and where analysis goes, may have implications as a useful high-level waste disposal approach. It also may be useful for engineered geothermal systems. This is a science experiment. It did not have any consent-based process. And we never do that for grants for science experiments. So it is apples and oranges [Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, 2016.03.02].
The Department of Energy is trying to forge a new policy in which locals get to decide whether they will host a nuclear waste dump. It is testing that policy out with the nuclear-free Borehole project. Rep. Shimkus is defending Congress’s attempt via the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to force a nuclear waste site on a community that does not want it.
So as I read it, a Republican Congressman is arguing for greater federal power, while the Obama Administration is upholding states’ rights. Go figure.