New chairman sets sight on Yucca hearings

Rep. John Shimkus, the chairman of a new House subcommittee on the environment, says Yucca Mountain and associated nuclear waste issues sit atop his priority list for early hearings.

Shimkus, an eight-term, pro-nuclear Republican from downstate Illinois, added he wants the panel to pay a visit to the Yucca site in Nevada even though it has been "padlocked" by the Obama administration.

"What do we do with high-level nuclear waste? That problem has not gone away. … We have to have an answer for this," Shimkus said in an interview posted today by Energy and Environment Daily, an online news service.

"We have spent billions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to locate a site … that is underneath a mountain in a desert. My gut is telling me that is about a safe an area as you can place it in," Shimkus told the service.

Dates for an initial hearing and the road trip to Nevada have not been set. Shimkus also wants to hold early hearings on the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program.

Shimkus is in the wave of leaders in the new GOP-controlled House of Representatives who have challenged the Obama administration’s decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain program that sought to carve an underground nuclear waste repository.

According to E&E Daily, Shimkus said his first nuclear waste hearing will touch on Yucca Mountain, nuclear fuel reprocessing, and financial and safety issues raised by keeping spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites for the foreseeable future.

A blue ribbon commission appointed by the Obama administration is studying alternatives to shipping radioactive material to Nevada for storage and ultimate disposal.

Ed Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the news service it would be premature for the House to hold hearings on nuclear waste before the blue ribbon commission releases recommendations. A draft report is due this summer.

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