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Edward Davis, USNIC: Senate kicks the can down the road again on Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste stalemate

Yesterday’s Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee action to report favorably a FY2018 DOE funding bill represents a disappointing setback in efforts to restart the long- stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste permanent repository project. 

Among the biggest disappointments was the apparent failure of the Senate Subcommittee led by Chairman Lamar Alexander to fund the Administration’s request for funding $120 million to restart the much delayed licensing process for the DOE Yucca Mountain project.

The Chairman’s opening statement lauded the efforts of the Subcommittee to end the nuclear waste stalemate by taking important steps toward solving the country’s stalemate over what to do with nuclear waste. Apparently, this was accomplished by including provisions for a consolidated interim (read temporary) storage facility and by providing funding for DOE to support storing nuclear waste at private facilities.

As the elephant in the room, the Yucca Mountain project was barley mentioned. Chairman Alexander’s statement did make note that the funding for private storage facilities was not intended to take the place of Yucca Mountain. But what of Yucca Mountain funding itself. Not a word mentioned. 

Never mind that the stalemate for the last eight years of Obama Administration has been over moving forward at Yucca Mountain to finish the legally required NRC safety review and to resolve the State of Nevada’s contentions. Evidently the stalemate over Yucca Mountain will have to resolved in some other venue and some other date in time.

The lack of inclusion of funding for Yucca is all the more surprising given Chairman Alexander’s past statements of strong support for the Yucca Mountain project, for example the Chairman’s opening statement on June 21st when Energy Secretary Perry testified in support of DOE’s budget where Chairman Alexander stated:

 “… solving the nuclear waste stalemate, to ensure that nuclear power has a strong future, we've got to break that 25-year-old stalemate and we welcome your leadership in helping us do that. We need to find places to build geologic repositories and temporary storage facilities so the federal government can finally meet its legal obligations to dispose of nuclear waste safely and permanently. This year's budget request for the department includes $110 million to restart work on Yucca Mountain repository and $10 million to study waste to open an interim storage site or use a private interim storage site. I strongly support Yucca Mountain. I believe it ought to be a part of the solution.”

Well, apparently Yucca is not part of the solution, at least not at the moment. This inconvenience or incongruity would seemingly benefit one particular senator from Nevada who is in the midst of a very tough re-election bid and whose vote on the GOP health care bill was absolutely vital to the Senate Republican efforts to clinch the necessary votes to put the Senate GOP ObamaCare Repeal and Replace legislation over the top – which now is off the rails.

For over eight years, Republicans in both the House and Senate have accused the Democrats of playing politics with Yucca. And what do Republican do the first chance they get  — Play politics with Yucca Mountain. Some things never change!!

Edward Davis, former President  of the American Nuclear Council, Senior Fellow, Nuclear Infrastructure Council.


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