(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) office released the following testimony that Senator Murray provided to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future during its meeting in the Tri-Cities this morning.  Murray, who delivered the testimony through staff due to votes in Washington D.C., criticized the Obama Administration directive not to include Yucca Mountain in the Commission’s deliberations.

In 2002, Murray voted to reaffirm Yucca Mountain as the nation’s permanent nuclear waste repository.  She also directly questioned Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the lack of a scientific rationale for taking Yucca off the table as an option. Additionally, last Tuesday (7/6) Murray joined with Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA 4th) to lead a letter to Secretary Chu calling on the Administration to immediately halt all actions to dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain. 89 other members of Congress signed onto their letter. Murray is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee which oversees the Department of Energy’s budget.

Senator Murray’s full testimony at today’s hearing follows:

Good morning, and welcome to Washington state.  Please accept my apologies for not being with you in person. I’d like to welcome the Co-Chairmen and the Commissioners – and especially my former colleagues, Senator Domenici and Senator Hagel. 

Thank you for coming here to the Tri-Cities, to visit and learn more about the Hanford Nuclear Reservation – the site of the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world. The people of the Tri-Cities stepped forward to produce the material that went in our strategic arms during World War II and the Cold War.  We won those wars in part because of the sacrifices made here in the Tri-Cities. 

One legacy of that sacrifice is the freedom we enjoy today, but another legacy is the nuclear waste those efforts produced.  And now, twenty years after we stopped making plutonium here, work at the site has turned to cleaning up the nuclear material and contaminated waste that was left behind. I’m glad that you had the opportunity to tour the site yesterday, and to see first-hand some of the waste we are dealing with.  It’s a complicated cleanup task, and in Washington state we continue to do our part to meet that challenge.

There have been difficulties along the way. But there has also been progress.  Last summer, I stood up with officials from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the State of Washington as we announced an agreement on new commitments for Hanford cleanup. 

The new agreement is an aggressive plan to make sure that the federal government meets its obligation to clean up this site. As the federal government works to meet its cleanup obligation, it must also remove the waste from Hanford. 

Due to ARRA spending, the workers have been able to accelerate cleanup and shrink the footprint of the site, so the need to move the waste offsite has become more pressing. I understand that the charge of the Commission is to take a broader look at nuclear issues and not to determine a specific repository site.  However, I am deeply disappointed that the Obama Administration has dismissed out of hand any discussion of Yucca Mountain.

Over the last 30 years, Congress, independent studies, and every previous administration have voted for, pointed to, and funded Yucca Mountain as the nation’s best option for a nuclear repository. In concert with those decisions, billions of dollars and countless work hours have been spent at Hanford and nuclear waste sites across the country in an effort to treat and package nuclear waste that should be sent there.

Yesterday morning, you saw the Waste Treatment Plant – the most complicated construction project in the country – which is being designed specifically to feed Yucca. Without a national repository, The WTP, those sites and the communities that support them are now in limbo. 

Decisions about if the Department of Energy has the authority to unilaterally terminate Yucca Mountain will be decided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. While we wait for those answers, no high-level waste or spent fuel will leave Hanford. 

When interim storage turns into long term storage, it can cause cost increases and turn a known cleanup task into a more complicated one, as we learned here at Hanford when spent fuel from the N Reactor was stored in the K basins for longer than intended.

Hanford is also home to the Columbia Generating Station, Washington’s only nuclear plant.  The spent fuel from CGS is stored on the Hanford Site. In my view, it will be difficult for our country to move forward with a “nuclear renaissance” without a clear plan to address nuclear waste.

Without a clear plan for a national repository, it becomes more difficult to continue to work to meet our already aggressive timelines for cleaning up Hanford. Nevertheless, I – together with the people of this community, who have shown tremendous support and dedication to the cleanup work – will continue to insist that the federal government meet its legal and moral obligations.

Finally, while the Commission has stated time and again that it will not name a specific site in its report, I want to be clear, and I have been consistent – I will fight any attempt or any recommendation to make Hanford the site for a permanent repository.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Tri-Cities, and I look forward to reading your report.