DOE nuke waste priorities criticized

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was scolded Thursday by a House Republican who said the Department of Energy is “ignoring political realities” by pressing ahead at Yucca Mountain in the face of forceful opposition from Nevada.

The comments from Rep. David Hobson of Ohio at a DOE budget hearing were another sign of shifts on Capitol Hill among lawmakers who have advocated completing the proposed nuclear waste repository 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Hobson, former chairman of the House energy and water subcommittee, in recent years has grown to advocate shipping waste from commercial plants to a few interim storage sites while the Yucca project continues on a slow path.

That way, he has said, the government can cut its losses from lawsuits from utilities who have sued over decade-long delays in taking the radioactive material off their hands. DOE officials project damage costs to taxpayers will be at least $7 billion and probably billions more.

When Bodman came before the energy and water subcommittee to talk about the DOE’s new budget that includes $494.7 million for the Nevada project, Hobson said he continues to be disappointed with the department’s performance on nuclear waste issues.

“The nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is still on life support, and the department is ignoring the political realities in the Senate and in the state of Nevada that can and will block any progress on the repository,” Hobson said. The Senate reference was to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has cut funding and tried to block the project at every turn.

“The department refuses to look seriously at alternatives for dealing with spent fuel,” Hobson said. “Meanwhile, spent fuel continues to accumulate at reactor sites around the country and the multi-billion dollar liability against the federal government grows larger every day.”

At one point in the hearing, Bodman was talking about radioactive waste being cleaned up at a former government nuclear weapons site. He declared, “That is why we need Yucca Mountain.”

Hobson interjected, “We are not going to have Yucca Mountain.”

Bodman told the panel that DOE plans to apply for a repository construction license, and hopes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will find the application complete enough to add to its docket of comprehensive safety reviews.

With the Bush administration nearing the end of its term, “we would like to get all of that done on our watch,” Bodman said.

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