WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday approved a massive spending bill for the fiscal year that included no new funding for Yucca Mountain to the delight of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
The bill, which was approved 65-33, includes $1.1 trillion in funding needed to keep federal agencies functioning through the fiscal year but not a dime extra for the Department of Energy to spend on the Yucca program.
In May, the House passed an energy and water funding bill that would have provided $150 million to the Department of Energy and $25 million to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in additional funding to move the proposed nuclear waste repository out of mothballs.
The appropriations bills stalled between the House and Senate, leaving congressional leaders to negotiate an omnibus bill for Congress to consider as it headed toward its year-end recess.
In an interview on Thursday ahead of the vote, Reid pointed gleefully to the fact that no additional funding was included in the final package that emerged from negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
"Notice there is nothing in these bills for Yucca Mountain," Reid chuckled.
A longtime opponent of constructing a nuclear repository in the mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Reid said he believes the project is "just a big boondoggle" that can no longer be revived.
President Barack Obama shelved the project in 2010. Before that, supporters envisioned storing thousands of canisters of waste in tunnels drilled throughout the mountain and construction of an extensive industrial complex above ground where nuclear waste could be received, repackaged and set on storage pads to await burial.
"The billions of dollars spent on that is just a waste," he said. "They don't need to do that anymore. Everybody knows that." Reid suggested that newer technologies will allow the waste from nuclear power plants to be stored safely without the need for burying it deep inside a mountain.
Bob Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said in a statement that the absence of new funding to license Yucca Mountain is a "significant win for Nevada."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have about $1 million remaining after staff complete work early next year on an environmental impact statement related to groundwater. NRC leaders have estimated it could cost $330 million to reach a final decision on whether the site would be safe and suitable.