WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday sought to put distance between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a published report that suggested he favored keeping the Yucca Mountain Project alive for a while longer.
A remark attributed to Chu in the New York Times prompted Nevada lawmakers to do a double take at the comment.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., called the Department of Energy, and a DOE aide told Sen. Harry Reid’s office that a clarification would be forthcoming.
In an interview with two Times reporters, Chu talked about the proposed nuclear waste repository among other issues.
According to the newspaper, Chu said the Department of Energy should continue to answer questions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about a construction license application filed last summer, and that the commission should be allowed to make a decision.
Chu would not say whether the Department of Energy would open the site if allowed to do so.
The NRC review process could take three years or more. The most ardent critics of the nuclear waste project that is unpopular in Nevada would have liked to have seen the effort killed yesterday.
But Steve Kraft, waste management director for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said he was “heartened” by the secretary’s comment.
“Without making a commitment to whether they build it or not build it, we ought to at least go through the licensing process and see whether we can find out the answers,” Kraft said. “That seems OK by us.”
Others found Chu’s comments to be odd in an administration where President Barack Obama has said Yucca Mountain is unsuitable and new directions for nuclear waste disposal should be explored.
Reid has said when Obama submits his first budget to Congress the Yucca project would be left with little or no funding.
Chu did not dispute the newspaper account. But later in the day, DOE public affairs director Dan Leistikow issued a statement that said Obama “has been clear that storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is not a workable option.”
“Secretary Chu agrees — and believes we need to find alternative solutions for the storage of the nation’s nuclear waste based on objective, scientific analysis,” Leistikow said.
Reid was satisfied, according to spokesman Jon Summers.
“We feel like things are clear on our end. Obama made a promise. Chu works for Obama’s administration and made the same commitment. The dump isn’t going to be built, period.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.