Energy Secretary: Yucca Mountain could restart

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration would revive the Yucca Mountain program if it loses upcoming legal challenges over the fate of the nuclear waste site, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress on Tuesday.

It would take two or three years for the Department of Energy to restart the repository project, terminated by President Barack Obama, Chu told members of a House subcommittee.

"We will take it one step at a time," Chu said. "We have preserved the records, and some of the key people have been transferred to the nuclear energy division and so we can start this up. If we are required to start it up, we will start it up."

But Chu made clear that the administration prefers to move on after nearly three decades of conflict over the effort to store nuclear waste in Nevada.

"The history of Yucca Mountain is one that has taught us a lesson," Chu said. "In picking future sites you are going to have to start a dialogue with the states and communities and do this in a way where 49 (states) don't gang up on one."

Chu's remarks were made to the House appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which has approved close to $10 billion for Yucca Mountain over the years. Members were displeased by the administration's decision to shelve the project.

"Many of us are keen on making sure we don't lose out on this substantial investment," said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

Next week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is to hear oral arguments in a Yucca Mountain challenge to the Obama administration brought by South Carolina, Washington state and others with an interest in creating a permanent disposal site.

"There are a lot of us who feel in order to change this, Congress has to pass a law and the administration cannot just unilaterally shut this thing down," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

Chu said DOE lawyers tell him the administration is on solid ground in terminating the project.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.