Idaho legislators question Yucca plans

WASHINGTON — Federal lawmakers from Idaho are questioning the Obama administration’s plans to dramatically scale back the Yucca Mountain Project.

The state’s four representatives have asked to meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about nuclear waste that now is kept in Idaho but would be disposed in the Nevada repository that is still under development.

Idaho is host to more than 300 metric tons of nuclear material that was produced by the military, and 4,400 cubic meters of high level waste that was sent to the state for temporary storage. The Department of Energy is under a 1995 court settlement to remove the material by 2035.

"Deep geologic disposal is the only disposal option for this type of defense waste,” the Idaho lawmakers wrote to Chu on Thursday.

“If DOE is not going to continue development of the Yucca Mountain repository, we would like you to explain to us how the federal government will maintain its commitment to the state,” they said.

The Idaho lawmakers said the 2035 deadline would be at risk if President Barack Obama follows through on a plan to limit spending on the Yucca program in 2010 while the administration devises a new strategy to manage the nation’s nuclear waste.

The letter was signed by Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans, Democratic Rep. Walter Minnick and Republican Rep. Mike Simpson.

Obama’s decision to seek alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas has been popular with Nevada’s elected leaders and many residents. But reaction from the northern neighbor indicates that ending the repository will take much more than just turning out the lights.

While discussion of the site usually focuses on spent nuclear fuel generated by commercial power plants, the repository also is projected for storage of 12,800 metric tons of waste from the production of nuclear warheads, and highly enriched uranium from fuel burned in naval reactors.

The defense waste is stored at the Idaho National Energy and Environmental Laboratory in eastern Idaho, the Hanford reservation in Washington state and the Savannah River complex in South Carolina.

At a Senate hearing on Thursday, Risch pressed Chu about Idaho’s waste. The energy secretary said DOE "will be looking at this very intensely over the next year."

Risch said afterwards it was clear that further meetings were needed.

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