U.S. Plan for Nuclear Waste Appears Dead

The Obama administration has publicly shelved a two-decade effort to establish a high-level nuclear waste facility in Nevada, raising the prospect of lawsuits from the nuclear industry and protests from lawmakers in states where the waste is currently stored, according to reports this week (see GSN, Feb. 27).

Officials had already deleted funding for the project -- to create an underground depository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain for the highly radioactive spent fuel from the nation's nuclear reactors -- and yesterday Energy Secretary Steven Chu made clear that the administration preferred other alternatives, the Associated Press reported.

"What's wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?" Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

"I think we can do a better job," Chu replied.

McCain asked if Chu and President Barack Obama considered the Yucca Mountain concept to be dead.

"That's true," Chu said.

"Now we're going to have spent fuel sitting around in pools all over America," McCain responded.

"The interim storage of waste (at reactors), the solidification of waste, is something we can do today. The [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has said we can do it safely," Chu said (Associated Press/International Herald Tribune, March 5).

Congress crafted a requirement in 1987 to create a storage site at Yucca Mountain, the New York Times reported; the Obama policy could trigger a wave of lawsuits from the nuclear industry, which has funneled billions of dollars to the project. Utilities have argued that a consolidated storage site offers far greater safety and security than keeping the radioactive materials scattered around that nation at power plants.

One former Bush administration official predicted that canceling the Yucca plans could spur a backlash from U.S. lawmakers who prefer not to have the dangerous nuclear materials stored in their districts and states, the Times reported.

"Everybody knows their state is going to be back in play" if the search resumes for a new consolidated waste disposal site, said Edward Sproat, who led the Energy Department's Yucca Mountain program at the end of the Bush administration (Matthew Wald, New York Times, March 6).

March 6, 2009
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The Obama administration has publicly shelved a two-decade effort to establish a high-level nuclear waste facility in Nevada, raising the prospect of lawsuits from the nuclear industry and protests from lawmakers in states where the waste is currently stored, according to reports this week (see GSN, Feb. 27).