From: H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Published February 10, 2005 12:00 AM

Energy Secretary Reaffirms Commitment to Building Nevada Nuclear Waste Dump

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told lawmakers Wednesday that while progress on a nuclear waste project in Nevada will be delayed, the government is "very focused and committed" to building the facility.


Bodman was questioned about the Bush administration's commitment to the program two days after the Energy Department said it would ask for only $651 million for the Yucca Mountain program for the budget year that begins in October.


Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, noted that until recently, it had been anticipated that beginning next year the department would need more than $1 billion a year to keep the program on track so it could begin accepting high-level waste from nuclear power plants by 2010.


Department officials have delayed plans to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the project and acknowledged the new target date for opening the facility -- if it gets an NRC license -- is 2012.


Potential problems that could delay programs, Bodman said, are court rulings that strike down the proposed radiation safety standards for the site and problems in preparation of the license application. But that "is not to suggest any less enthusiasm for Yucca Mountain," Bodman told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


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Bodman said the $651 million requested for upcoming budget year for the Yucca project is adequate "given the restrains under which we are operating."


In Nevada, Robert Loux, head of the state agency fighting the proposed waste site, said he saw the scaled-back spending as evidence that "the project is limping along" and likely never to be built.


"We believe the project is dead," said Loux at a hearing before the state Legislature in Carson City. "It looks to us and others that the project may never rekindle and get started again."


Bodman, who just took over at the department, said, "It is clear that the administration is very focused and committed to the program." He added, "We need Yucca Mountain to be in place."


The project has widespread and bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But Congress provided $577 million this budget year, far less than the $880 million the administration had sought.


Yucca Mountain, a ridge of volcanic rock 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was first considered as a place for the nation's central repository for high-level nuclear waste 27 years ago. The government initially promised the industry it would begin accepting the waste -- building up at power plants around the country -- for long-term disposal by 1998.


President Bush gave the go-ahead to the project in 2002. Congress overrode Nevada's objections to the dump and last year an appeals court rejected Nevada's argument that the federal government's decision to single out Nevada for the facility was unconstitutional.


Source: Associated Press


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