WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry is expected to tell a House panel that his $31.7 billion budget blueprint includes $116 million to restart licensing hearings on a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and to implement interim storage in other states.
Perry’s appearance Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee will be his first chance to defend his spending priorities since Department of Energy budget proposals for fiscal year 2020 were unveiled this month.
In prepared testimony submitted to the committee, Perry is expected to say the budget accelerates fulfillment of the government’s obligations “to address nuclear waste, enhance national security and reduce future burdens on taxpayers.”
The budget includes $116 million, including $26 million in defense funds, to restart licensing hearings on DOE’s application to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and initiate a “robust interim storage program.”
Private contractors have applications before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build interim storage facilities in New Mexico and Texas.
NRC hearings on the Yucca Mountain application were halted in 2011 when the Obama administration and Congress, under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not seek or appropriate funding for the process.
In its budget request for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1, the NRC is seeking $38 million to hire staff for resumed hearings on the Yucca Mountain application, which faces 218 legal challenges by the state of Nevada, where top officials are opposed to a nuclear repository in the state.
Nevada claims the decision to locate a permanent storage facility for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from power plants and Navy ships would pose a risk of contamination to groundwater, the local environment and residents who live nearby or along transit routes.
Tribal leaders, business and environmental groups have joined to oppose the Yucca Mountain repository. Officials in Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located, and in other rural Nevada counties support the licensing process to determine whether the site is safe.
Congress designated Yucca Mountain in 1987 as the sole site for permanent nuclear waste. Failure to develop the facility, or an alternative, has resulted in spent fuel rods and other waste being stockpiled at power plants and military installations in 34 states.
Perry, in prepared remarks, is expected to tell House appropriators that his budget request for nuclear waste storage would go toward meeting legal obligations and challenges, as well as to provide scientific and technical support for the application.
The Trump administration’s budget requests in the past two years to resume licensing on the Yucca Mountain application died in the Senate.