U.S. Sen. Angus King grills U.S. leaders and experts in nuclear energy about the lack of conversation around nuclear waste management solutions Tuesday. (Submitted photo)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King criticized of how closure of the now-defunct Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset has been handled by the federal government Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The hearing was held on the proposed Nuclear Energy Leadership Act. According to a statement from sponsors of the bill, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act aims to reestablish U.S. leadership in nuclear energy, and bring together private and public sector innovators to develop next-generation advanced reactor concepts.

King, an Independent who lives in Brunswick, questioned leaders and experts in the nuclear energy field about the lack of conversation around nuclear waste management solutions.

According to a news release, the committee was considering a bill to promote nuclear power but without solving the problem of of nuclear waste management.

“I think we’ve got it backwards: Let’s solve the waste problem and then talk about promoting nuclear power,” King said.

While supportive of using nuclear as a type of carbon-free power, King pointed to more than 70 years of waste buildup in the United States as a fundamental problem which needs to be addressed.


“I’ve got a high-level nuclear waste site in West Port Island, Maine, because when Maine Yankee closed, the Department of Energy breached its contractual obligation to take away that waste and do something with it,” King said. “So that’s my problem with this bill.”

Maine Yankee operated from 1972 to 1996.

The Portland Press Herald reported in February that a federal judge had awarded Maine Yankee Atomic Electric $34.4 million as a result of the federal government’s failure to remove spent nuclear fuel. Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co., and Yankee Atomic Electric Co. also were awarded large sums, bringing the total to $103.2 million.

It’s the fourth time the power plant owners were awarded millions of dollars since 1998. That’s the year the federal government was to begin removing radioactive waste from nuclear reactors and disposing of it, as required by law. That process hasn’t happened.

The financial award is to help offset the approximately $10 million annual cost of operating in interim spent fuel storage site on plant property in Wiscasset. The Portland Press Herald also reported that Wayne Norm, president of the three companies, urged Congress in a statement to authorize funding for a pilot program to remove and consolidate spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from closed reactor sites, as well as to review a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

King, an advocate for clean energy, had just met with a group of nine Camden high school students visiting his DC office. The students raised concerns about energy consumption and energy waste, which King referenced during the committee hearing.

“They’re all for carbon-free energy, they’re excited, but they’re not excited about paying the price of our using electricity and leaving to them what to do with the waste,” King said. “We haven’t met a 70-year promise in this country yet on nuclear waste.”

King stated he is not opposed to the technology, which could be an enormous boon the the country’s economy and climate, “but I just don’t know how we have this discussion and not talk about this really significant problem that isn’t being addressed. And I’m tired of passing burdens onto our children.”

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