WASHINGTON — A Michigan congressman who was an early booster of the Yucca Mountain Project said Thursday “something needs to change” in how the nation manages its nuclear waste.
Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican whose district contains two nuclear power plants, said he still favors building a Nevada spent fuel repository.
But at a House budget hearing, he urged Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman also to explore the “great promise” of nuclear fuel recycling.
When it comes to nuclear power, Upton likened Yucca Mountain to “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
“We’ve been talking about a spent fuel repository at Yucca Mountain for years and years,” he said. “We have thrown billions of dollars at the problem. Something needs to change.”
The remarks show how the landscape has shifted over the years that Yucca Mountain project has been delayed because of internal management problems, legal challenges and opposition from critics.
Where once the Nevada repository was seemingly the only option for disposal of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, reprocessing technologies that could recycle fuel while reducing the volume and toxicity of the waste have advanced.
Government and industry experts have said recycling processes and facilities that would be sound and economical are decades away. And a repository still would be needed to hold the waste. Nevada officials who contend the Yucca site is unsuitable have said they would hope over time other disposal options could be developed.
“While I am one of the original proponents of creating the Yucca repository, I recognize that Yucca needs to be just a component of our nuclear fuel policies,” Upton said. “There is great promise in the recycling of nuclear fuel.”
In the mid-1990s, Upton sponsored a bill that would send highly radioactive spent fuel to the Nevada Test Site for interim storage until a permanent repository could be built at Yucca Mountain. A similar bill passed Congress but was vetoed by President Clinton in 2000.