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Republicans sponsor Yucca rescue measure

WASHINGTON — Seven Republican senators announced a bill Thursday to revive the crippled Yucca Mountain Project. Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada declared it dead on arrival.

“It is going nowhere,” Reid said of the measure introduced by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. As majority leader, Reid has had the last word on nuclear waste bills.

Inhofe said his bill aims to move the stalled project forward. Managers are trying to rework the program, already years behind schedule, in the face of budget cuts and personnel layoffs.

“I’ve visited the site,” Inhofe said. “I have a question for those who want to abandon Yucca Mountain: If you can’t build a repository in the middle of a mountain in the middle of a desert, where should it be?”

The bill alters the government’s strategy for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste at the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The bill allows the Department of Energy to build an underground repository and store waste there after proving to regulators it could be operated safely for 300 years. Every 50 years during that period, DOE would seek license amendments to incorporate new research and technology.

At 300 years, the government would be required to show whether the repository could meet radiation standards to ensure the waste can remain shielded for as long as 1 million years. If so, the repository would be sealed.

Current law requires DOE to show up front whether Yucca Mountain can prevent radioactive materials from leaking and poisoning residents over the longest periods of time.

Energy Department officials said they were reviewing the bill.

Bob Loux, director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the bill is based on a “phased licensing” idea that has been floated before but rejected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“This appears to be more of a political document than a serious piece of legislation,” Loux said.

Nevadans have said that the Yucca site is not suitable and that nuclear waste should remain stored at power plants until another solution is found.

The sponsors “are trying to fast-forward a project that should be stopped,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Besides Inhofe, sponsors included Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Kit Bond, R-Mo.; Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho; and Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

 

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