Senator offers plan to store nuclear waste
Proposal rests on temporary sites
June 28, 2006
By Steve Tetreault

WASHINGTON — The government would store nuclear waste at temporary sites for as long as 25 years while it worked to overcome delays in the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada under a plan offered by the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., on Tuesday advanced a nuclear waste management plan he said would break a logjam in which thousands of tons of used nuclear fuel have accumulated at power plants. Plant operators have sued the Department of Energy for not taking the material away as promised.

“This provision is intended to provide a medium-term solution for spent nuclear fuel,” said Domenici, a nuclear power advocate in Congress.

Domenici said the plan “will not impact Yucca Mountain,” where the department has faced problems and delays. Nuclear waste would be consolidated at state or regional sites for 25 years or until a Yucca Mountain repository could be opened or waste-reprocessing technologies could be commercialized.

The sites would be on federal land or on property obtained from willing sellers, he said. Nevada and Utah would be exempted.

Domenici said a new target date for Yucca Mountain was 2018, “which may happen or may not happen.” He did not explain how the date was reached.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., negotiated the measure with Domenici. Reid said he signed off on it after concluding it would be “Yucca-neutral.”

He said it could buy time for the development of possible alternatives. “This measure will give us time to study the problem of nuclear waste and work towards a solution that is safe and viable,” he said.

Reid has argued that to transport nuclear waste is unsafe, and he has introduced a bill to keep it stored at power plants. He suggested that much of the waste might not move far or at all if DOE can gain agreements with utilities.

More than 50,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored at plants in 39 states.

Under the plan, the government would take ownership of nuclear waste stored at eight decommissioned plants and keep it there.

The Department of Energy had no comment. A spokesman said officials received the bill Tuesday.

Frank “Skip” Bowman, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the nuclear industry was reviewing the interim storage provisions.

But Robert List, a former Nevada governor who represents NEI as a consultant in the state, said the interim storage plans “do not delay the Yucca Mountain project.”

“Nevadans should not be deceived into believing that the temporary storage facilities, if built, would in any way slow down or stop the development of the Yucca Mountain facility,” List said in a statement.

The proposal adds a layer of complication to problems of nuclear waste storage and will get a chilly reception from state leaders, said Charles Pray, a nuclear adviser to the governor of Maine and co-leader of a pro-Yucca Mountain task force, which consists of utility regulators and community groups.

“I would find it amazing to find any governor who would step forward and say they would be willing to provide a temporary repository for the next 25 years,” Pray said.

Also, if the plan comes to votes in the House and Senate, lawmakers would be asked to keep nuclear waste within their states for decades, after they voted four years ago to move it to Yucca Mountain, he said.