Senator offers Yucca proposal


A Republican senator isn't giving up hope that highly radioactive military waste will someday be disposed inside Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday such hopes have risen before only to be dashed.

"This isn't the first time Republicans have offered an amendment like this. They're trying to breathe life back into the project," said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers.

An amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for possible inclusion in the 2010 defense authorization bill, calls for "consideration of Yucca Mountain" for disposing the Defense Department's spent nuclear fuel, special nuclear materials "and other waste arising from the production, storage or maintenance of nuclear weapons" including nuclear weapons components.

Summers noted that similar measures have been proposed in recent energy and climate bills but were never voted on.

"President Obama terminated the project and Senator Reid will continue to leverage his position as Senate majority leader to prevent Yucca supporters from turning Nevada into the nation's nuclear dumping ground," Summers said.

Nevertheless, the NRC is continuing to review the license application that the Department of Energy submitted last year near the end of the Bush administration for constructing a repository at Yucca Mountain.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants to gather information from the license review process as a rehearsal for future reviews of disposal sites other than Yucca Mountain. This, Summers noted, is being done while Chu appoints a blue ribbon panel to explore other options for dealing with used fuel from civilian and military nuclear reactors.

Eventually the Yucca Mountain license application will likely be withdrawn, he said.

"At some point when the blue ribbon commission comes back with its findings then we'll have to go back and revisit the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Again, that's not something that has to be done immediately either. The dump is dead, period," Summers said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will press ahead with its review of a license for a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, even as the Obama administration has made clear it is abandoning the project, the commission’s chairman said Tuesday.

Even so, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko acknowledged in an interview that the agency’s ability to work on the license application for the Yucca Mountain project could be jeopardized by future budget cuts.

“Right now we have funding for one year at a time. ... Going forward, we’ll see what kind of work we’ll be able to do with the budget that we get,” said Jaczko at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Ironically, Jaczko, who was named the commission’s chairman in May after four years at the NRC, previously was the science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For years Reid has vowed to kill the proposed Yucca waste project, which has been the focus of intense controversy in his state for two decades.

While on Reid’s staff, Jaczko helped the senator frame arguments against Yucca Mountain. And even now, Reid has said he wants to halt funding for even the license review.

Jaczko said that because of the ongoing NRC review he could not discuss in detail the Yucca license application submitted last year by the Bush administration.

On Monday, Reid said requesting that the Department of Energy withdraw the license application wasn’t in his immediate plans. “I don’t know why we need that,” he told the Review-Journal.

Meanwhile, the leader of Nevada’s opposition, Bruce Breslow, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, expressed concern for the drawn-out schedule for discovery in the licensing hearing process. In an e-mail Tuesday, he wrote that the NRC staff wouldn’t be able to issue a safety evaluation report in time to meet federal guidelines.

“Part of it is because they have issued so many requests for information that the Department of Energy has been unable to fully answer,” Breslow said. “DOE, of course, blames some of it on their lack of funding.”

Jaczko said he’s convinced the radioactive waste — actually used reactor fuel — that would go to Yucca Mountain can be maintained safely and securely for decades at commercial power plants in 31 states. The waste could be submerged in spent-fuel pools or in steel and concrete casks for longer on-site storage.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers contributed to this report.