January 7, 1983

Thank you very much, and welcome to the White House. Please sit down. You must know that something good has happened when you see all these members of the Congress and of the administration and we're all smiling at the same time. [Laughter]

The 97th Congress received its share of criticism for some things that happened during the lameduck session. But today we're signing a vital piece of legislation that made it over whatever final hurdles there were during the last frantic hours before adjournment. That's a tribute to the dedication of leaders like Senators McClure and Stafford and Simpson and Johnston, Representatives Broyhill, Dingell, and Udall. They and many of their colleagues provided the bipartisan muscle needed to push the bill through the legislative maze -- as it always appears to me to be.

I understand that almost a dozen congressional committees were involved in this legislation, but with the partisan support -- or bipartisan support, I should say, and cooperation from industry, labor, and the environmental groups, we managed to get it through the process. It's a bill good for all those groups because it's good for America.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which I'm signing today, provides the long overdue assurance that we now have a safe and effective solution to the nuclear waste problem. It's an important step in the pursuit of the peaceful uses of atomic energy, a program that was launched by President Eisenhower some 30 years ago. The outlines of that program have changed with the years, but America's leadership in the development and use of peaceful atoms remain strong.

This administration is committed to the use of nuclear energy as a crucial element in the enormous task of supplying America's energy needs. American industry has developed the strong technological base for the production of electricity from nuclear energy, and we owe it to our people to make it possible to use this technology to better their lives.

This act -- the culmination of 25 years of legislative effort -- clears the barrier that has stood in the way of development of this vital energy resource. It allows the Federal Government to fulfill its responsibilities concerning nuclear waste in a timely and responsible manner.

On October 8th, 1981, I announced several policy initiatives regarding nuclear energy, which Secretary Edwards and Secretary Hodel have worked hard to implement. In April of this last year, I requested legislation in the area of waste that encompasses key elements of this bill: a system of fees paid by utilities so the full cost of nuclear waste disposal will be borne by the beneficiaries of nuclear power, rather than taxpayers as a whole; a method for State participation in the siting procedures, giving them a strong voice in the process and means for resolving objections; a limited and temporary Federal storage program to assist utilities with grave, near-term storage problems, thus preventing plant shutdowns over the next decade as utilities run out of onsite storage; a commitment to permanent geologic disposal as the ultimate solution to waste problems; a study of monitored, retrievable storage as an interim step toward permanent disposition and a clear distinction between the handling of civilian and defense wastes.

The step we're taking today should demonstrate to the public that the challenge of coping with nuclear waste can and will be met. With resolve and the good sense to work together as was demonstrated by the Congress on this issue, we can and will prevail over the sometimes complex and perplexing problems associated with energy. This legislation represents a milestone for progress and the ability of our democratic system to resolve a sophisticated and devisive issue.

Enactment of this legislation is particularly appropriate now, because it enhances the prospects of ample supplies of electricity at affordable prices for all Americans.

And with that, and with a thank you to all of these people who are here with us on the platform and who have made this possible, I shall now sign that bill with those pens that will only write one word at a time. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President began to sign the bill.]

It's a good thing [entertainer] Bing Crosby was never in this spot. He only used his first name. [Laughter]

Well, thank you all very much, and thank all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:33 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the State Dining Room at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 3809 is Public Law 97 - 425, approved January 7.