After talking with Obama, Reid says Yucca project will suffer a slow and painful death


WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid have held several discussions about the Yucca Mountain Project since the election, with Reid saying this week the nuclear waste burial plan will “bleed real hard” before being halted.

Reid said the most recent conversation — covering the waste repository program and other issues — took place Tuesday.

He declined to give details, but hinted that the plan to bury 77,000 tons of highly radioactive material in Nevada could die a slow and painful death.

“Yucca Mountain is history, OK?” Reid said in an interview Wednesday. “Just watch, we’ll see what happens real soon, just watch. You will see it bleed real hard in the next year.”

Supporters and critics of the proposed Nevada nuclear waste repository have been waiting for signals as to how Obama might proceed on nuclear waste issues.

One of the tea leaves is Reid, the Senate majority leader and the leading congressional opponent of the Yucca project that is unpopular among many Nevadans and most of the state’s elected leaders.

Other signals, observers say, will be who Obama selects to run the Department of Energy and carry out his policies, and how much money he proposes to spend on the project in the coming year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission started in September to review an 8,600-page DOE application for a repository construction license.

It has not been made clear what the ramifications might be if that process is stopped in its tracks Ñ for instance whether legislation might be needed to set a new course, and what would become of more than $20 billion set aside so far for construction.

During the presidential campaign that included a key early caucus in Nevada, Obama declared the selection of Yucca Mountain for long-term waste storage “has failed.” He said nuclear waste should continue to be kept at reactor sites while policy-makers come up with a Plan B.

Critics say the geology of the mountain ridge 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas is unsuitable for safe storage of nuclear waste for periods that would stretch beyond tens of thousands of years.

Further, they say shipping the radioactive material to Nevada would invite accidents and possible attacks.

But others contend the Department of Energy strategy to place waste in corrosion-resistant containers within Yucca Mountain tunnels will meet federal safety standards for up to 1 million years.

As for transportation, DOE and nuclear industry officials point to a safety record for nuclear shipments going back 30 years.

 

Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.