The U.S. House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday passed a bill that restores $35 million to the development of the Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste repository in Nevada, including $10 million that goes to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to continue its license application.
The bill is expected to pass the full Appropriations Committee and could pass in the Republican-controlled House.
One reason previously given not to pursue the 25-year-old project was its cost. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said the project had cost $15 billion and could cost billions more. "While the amount included in this bill is only a drop in the bucket given Yucca Mountain’s $100 billion cost, I oppose any additional spending on this failed effort,” she said.
A Senate energy spending bill two years ago officially cut all funding for project. The Obama administration has scrapped all plans for the repository, and in March 2010, the Energy Department filed a motion with the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to withdraw, “with prejudice” its license application for Yucca Mountain. The board later denied the DOE’s authority to withdraw the application under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Last month, NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, who once worked for Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told a House panel that the five-member commission has individually voted on the board’s ruling, but they have not been able to agree on an order implementing the vote. The states of Washington and South Carolina and three other parties have since sued the DOE for the withdrawal.
At the separate hearing at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy on Wednesday to examine “The Department of Energy’s Role in Managing Civilian Radioactive Waste,” DOE Assistant Secretary Pete Lyons told Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) that the DOE’s license application was not scientifically unsuitable—and that it was based on “technical criteria.”
He added that public support was important in the siting of a repository: “A new start, with Secretary Chu’s emphasis on public acceptance, I believe can lead to enhanced credibility of the department,” Lyons said. “And as further proof, the department’s leadership of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant program [in southern New Mexico] enjoys very strong support from the local community.”
But Christopher Kouts, former acting director of DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, testified that there was significant local support for the project. “Yucca Mountain has not failed any technical or regulatory test,” he said. “Given the substantial investment this nation has made in the site … I believe the nation deserves a final and definitive answer regarding Yucca Mountain from the NRC licensing process.”
Today, the House Science Committee released a report whose title claims “Manipulation of Process and Suppression of Science Behind Yucca Mountain Decision.” It has been widely speculated that the Obama administration halted progress on the licensing and development of the Yucca Mountain site as a favor to Senator Reid, a long-time opponent of Yucca Mountain.
Sources: POWERnews, House Energy & Commerce Committee, NEI