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Monday, July 26, 2010

Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal

Mark Holt
Specialist in Energy Policy

Management of civilian radioactive waste has posed difficult issues for Congress since the beginning of the nuclear power industry in the 1950s. Federal policy is based on the premise that nuclear waste can be disposed of safely, but proposed storage and disposal facilities have frequently been challenged on safety, health, and environmental grounds. Although civilian radioactive waste encompasses a wide range of materials, most of the current debate focuses on highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) calls for disposal of spent nuclear fuel in a deep geologic repository. NWPA established the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) in the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop such a repository and required the program's civilian costs to be covered by a fee on nuclear-generated electricity, paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund. Amendments to NWPA in 1987 restricted DOE's repository site studies to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

DOE submitted a license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on June 3, 2008, and NRC docketed the application September 8, 2008. The NRC license must be based on radiation exposure standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which issued revised standards September 30, 2008. The State of Nevada strongly opposes the Yucca Mountain project, disputing DOE's analysis that the repository would meet EPA's standards. Risks cited by repository opponents include excessive water infiltration, earthquakes, volcanoes, and human intrusion.

The Obama Administration "has determined that developing the Yucca Mountain repository is not a workable option and the Nation needs a different solution for nuclear waste disposal," according to the DOE FY2011 budget justification. As a result, no funding for Yucca Mountain or OCRWM is being requested for FY2011. DOE filed a motion with NRC to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application on March 3, 2010. DOE's withdrawal motion has drawn legal challenges from states that have defense-related and civilian waste awaiting permanent disposal. An NRC licensing board denied DOE's withdrawal motion on June 29, 2010, a decision that may be reviewed by the NRC commissioners.

Alternatives to Yucca Mountain are to be evaluated by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which held its first meeting March 25-26, 2010. Congress provided $5 million for the Commission in the FY2010 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. The Commission is to study options for temporary storage, treatment, and permanent disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste, along with an evaluation of nuclear waste research and development programs and the need for legislation. A draft report is to be issued within 18 months and a final report within two years.

DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is to take over the remaining functions of OCRWM and "lead all future waste management activities," according to the FY2011 budget justification. Substantial funding has been requested for NE to conduct research on nuclear waste disposal technologies and options and to provide support for the Blue Ribbon Commission.

Congress provided $198.6 million to OCRWM for FY2010 to continue the Yucca Mountain licensing process but terminate all development activities related to the proposed repository. DOE plans to reprogram the FY2010 funding toward shutting down the program.

Date of Report: July 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL33461
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): Overview and Issues

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Federal policy has played a key role in the emergence of the U.S. biofuels industry. Policy measures include minimum renewable fuel usage requirements, blending and production tax credits, an import tariff, loans and loan guarantees, and research grants. This report focuses on the mandated minimum usage requirements—referred to as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)— whereby a minimum volume of biofuels is to be used in the national transportation fuel supply each year. It describes the general nature of the RFS mandate and its implementation, and outlines some emerging issues related to the sustainability of the continued growth in U.S. biofuels production needed to fulfill the expanding RFS mandate, as well as the emergence of potential unintended consequences of this rapid expansion.

Congress first established an RFS with the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct, P.L. 109-58). This initial RFS (referred to as RFS1) mandated that a minimum of 4 billion gallons be used in 2006, and that this minimum usage volume rise to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. Two years later, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140) superseded and greatly expanded the biofuels blending mandate. The expanded RFS (referred to as RFS2) required the annual use of 9 billion gallons of biofuels in 2008 and expanded the mandate to 36 billion gallons annually in 2022, of which no more than 15 billion gallons can be ethanol from corn starch, and no less than 16 billion must be from cellulosic biofuels. In addition, EISA carved out specific requirements for "other advanced biofuels" and biomass-based biodiesel.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for establishing and implementing regulations to ensure that the nation's transportation fuel supply contains the mandated biofuels volumes. EPA's initial regulations for administering RFS1 (issued in April 2007) established detailed compliance standards for fuel suppliers, a tracking system based on renewable identification numbers (RINs) with credit verification and trading, special treatment of small refineries, and general waiver provisions. EPA rules for administering RFS2 (issued in February 2010) built upon the earlier RFS1 regulations; however, there are four major distinctions. First, mandated volumes are greatly expanded and the time frame over which the volumes ramp up is extended through at least 2022. Second, the total renewable fuel requirement is divided into four separate, but nested categories—total renewable fuels, advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel, and cellulosic ethanol—each with its own volume requirement. Third, biofuels qualifying under each category must achieve certain minimum thresholds of lifecycle green house gas (GHG) emission reductions, with certain exceptions applicable to existing facilities. Fourth, all renewable fuel must be made from feedstocks that meet a new definition of renewable biomass, including certain land use restrictions.

In the long term, the expanded RFS is likely to play a dominant role in the development of the U.S. biofuels sector, but with considerable uncertainty regarding potential spillover effects in other markets and on other important policy goals. Emerging resource constraints related to the rapid expansion of U.S. corn ethanol production have provoked questions about its long-run sustainability and the possibility of unintended consequences in other markets as well as on the environment. Questions also exist about the ability of the U.S. biofuels industry to meet the expanding mandate for biofuels from non-corn sources such as cellulosic biomass materials, whose production capacity has been slow to develop, or biomass-based biodiesel, which remains expensive to produce owing to the relatively high prices of its feedstocks. Finally, considerable uncertainty remains regarding the development of the infrastructure capacity (e.g., trucks, pipelines, pumps, etc.) needed to deliver the expanding biofuels mandate to consumers.

Date of Report: July 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R40155
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.