US Delays Plan to Seek Permit for Nuclear Waste Site
WASHINGTON − The Bush administration on Monday delayed its plan to file an application to build a nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert, citing an unresolved court case and budget questions.
The Energy Department had planned to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of December for a permit to build a massive underground storage depot beneath Yucca Mountain about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
"We're revising that original goal," Energy Department spokesman Joseph Davis said. "We don't anticipate significant delays, even though we have not nailed down a hard date."
The administration wants to open the repository in 2010, but recent delays call into question the timetable for the plan to store 77,000 tons of waste from 103 U.S. nuclear power reactors.
"Everything hasn't gone according to plan," Davis said. "There are some outstanding issues we've got to deal with."
The department must weigh a court decision ordering it to prevent radiation leaks for more than 10,000 years, as well as budget constraints, Davis said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July rejected Nevada's attempt to block the plan on constitutional grounds.
But the court also said the administration wrongly ignored a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences to ensure safety from leaks for well beyond 10,000 years. Radioactive releases could peak in 300,000 years and the administration must assure safeguards on that scale, it said.
There are also budget concerns.
Some opponents of Yucca in Congress, including new Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have tried to choke the project through the appropriations process.
Congress on Saturday approved a $388 billion spending bill for federal government programs that set aside $577 million to fund Yucca, equal to current levels but short of the $880 million sought by the Energy Department.
Spent fuel from the nation's nuclear plants -- which suppklies about 20 percent of U.S. electricity -- is piling up, with over 50,000 tons of it stored at over 100 temporary locations in 39 states.