Senate Panel Rebuffs House Call for Interim Nuclear Waste Storage
WASHINGTON Senators struck a blow for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump Tuesday as a spending panel rebuffed a House effort to establish temporary storage sites as a backup.
A leading Yucca Mountain supporter, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, joined with a leading opponent, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, to criticize the House plan. Domenici called it "totally inadequate," and Reid said it was "half-baked."
The House measure, passed last month as part of a spending bill, called on the Energy Department to produce a plan for aboveground storage for spent reactor fuel from commercial nuclear power plants within four months at one or more federal sites. It also set October 2006 as the date to begin accepting waste and provided $10 million for the program.
The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds energy and water projects passed a $31 billion spending bill on a voice vote Tuesday with no money for interim storage. Domenici chairs the panel and Reid is the top-ranking Democrat.
The bill funds the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada at $577 million for 2006, which is the same as the 2005 level but less than President Bush's budget request of $651 million, which the House met.
"We have kept it going," Domenici said of the project.
Domenici told reporters later that while he supports looking for new solutions for nuclear waste disposal, he doesn't like the plan championed by Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Appropriations energy subcommittee.
"It's totally inadequate. You can't start a program of that importance with $10 million and a paragraph," he said. "I'm willing to look at a whole new policy which could involve interim storage, but not this way."
Reid, who supports leaving commercial nuclear waste at reactor sites in more than 30 states, voiced similar criticism.
"All the House has done has been to stir up members in an unproductive way," he said.
Some lawmakers worry that temporary storage could become permanent, and opposition in the House came from lawmakers representing sites mentioned in a report accompanying the House bill. Those included the Hanford complex in Washington state and the Idaho National Laboratory.
Yucca Mountain, approved by President Bush in 2002, is planned as a national repository for 77,000 tons of defense and commercial nuclear waste, to be buried for 10,000 years and beyond in the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A string of recent setbacks has put the program in doubt.
A federal appeals court rejected the proposed radiation protection plans for the Yucca facility. In March, documents surfaced that alleged that government workers on the project falsified data. The chairman of the House Government Reform committee issued a subpoena Tuesday for testimony from one of those workers.
Yucca Mountain is now projected not to be finished until 2012 and could be delayed further.
Source: Associated Press