Yucca delay may spur interim storage

WASHINGTON — State legislators are adding their voices to those who have grown impatient at slow progress in establishing nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is expected today to recommend the government identify one or two sites where used nuclear fuel can be stored temporarily until the proposed repository 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas is built and until fuel recycling can be made available.

The policy change at the group’s spring meeting will allow lobbyists to urge Congress to redirect a portion of the money in a $20 billion Yucca construction fund into a near-term alternative. Under the group’s scenario, radioactive waste would be stored in hardened casks lined up on concrete pads for not longer than 25 years.

The conference becomes the second national organization this year to recommend steering high-level waste into temporary storage while the Department of Energy attempts to overcome a decade of delay to advance the Yucca project.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners adopted a similar policy in February. The Nuclear Energy Institute is recruiting communities interested in hosting such a storage complex.

Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas, said the shift toward interim storage might benefit Nevada leaders who have fought the Yucca repository.

“We ought to be able to make it work for us,” McClain said at the group’s meeting. “I think it increases the chances that they might find an alternative in that 25 years.”

A subcommittee adopted the policy Friday.

Since the vote was unanimous, it will be added to a fast-track agenda for approval at the final conference session, said John Heaton, a state representative from New Mexico.

The new policy was propelled by legislators from New Mexico, Maryland and Maine who argued nuclear waste piling up at power plants in 35 states needs to be removed and taken somewhere if not Yucca Mountain right away.

The issue is most pressing at 10 sites where reactors have been shut down but nuclear waste remains and requires costly protections, said Deborah Simpson, a Maine representative.

“We can no longer sit back,” said Sally Jameson, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. “We have to try to make a path forward possible.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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