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Lawmakers Object to Yucca Mountain Money Switch

by Annette Cary
The News Tribune, March 24, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Spending federal money appropriated to create the Yucca Mountain waste repository to instead shut it down is contrary to the intent of Congress, according to five representatives from Washington state and South Carolina.

The bipartisan group has written to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking the Department of Energy to withdraw its request to reprogram $115 million. Congress had directed in the 2010 federal budget that the money be spent on the Yucca Mountain license.

The letter to Chu was signed by Republican Doc Hastings and Democrats Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee from Washington and South Carolina Democrats John Spratt and James Clyburn.

In addition, the five were among seven representatives Tuesday who introduced a House resolution criticizing DOE's termination of Yucca Mountain.

Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for high level radioactive waste, including waste from the Hanford nuclear reservation and the Savannah River, S.C., nuclear site. It also was to hold used commercial nuclear power fuel.

"The administration has determined that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel and that we can develop a better solution to this challenge," said DOE in a letter notifying the House Appropriations Energy Subcommittee of its plans to reprogram the money.

"As a result, we do not believe it would be prudent to continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on the license application," the letter said.

Instead, the money would be used "to bring the Yucca Mountain project to an orderly close," it said. It would pay for such costs as cancellation of leases for office space, work force transition and preparing Yucca Mountain for surveillance and maintenance status.

But the five congressmen said reprogramming the money would violate the federal law requiring DOE to construct Yucca Mountain and seemed inadvisable because of pending lawsuits, one filed by Tri-City business leaders, to block the Obama administration from terminating Yucca Mountain.

"Furthermore, the proposed reprogramming would exacerbate the significant costs to the U.S. government for failing to meet its legal responsibilities for nuclear waste removal," the congressmen's letter said.

Nuclear utilities pay about $750 million annually for waste disposal services, and federal courts have awarded more than $1 billion in settlements for breach of contract, the letter said. Energy Northwest has been awarded $57 million.

Estimates of the federal government's potential liability nationwide range from a DOE estimate of about $12 billion to an industry estimate of $50 billion.

DOE moved this month to withdraw permanently its license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for Yucca Mountain. The state of Washington is among the parties that have filed to intervene in the NRC proceedings to block the withdrawal. More recently, the organization of the nation's state utility commissioners filed to intervene.

The Obama administration's move to withdraw permanently the license application for Yucca Mountain is premature, arbitrary and capricious, said the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The House resolution introduced Tuesday raises similar objections.

"This resolution sends a clear message that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will continue actively working to keep the Yucca Mountain license moving forward," Hastings said in a statement.

The resolution says abandoning Yucca Mountain breaks a commitment to states with defense nuclear waste and goes against the will of Congress.

Annette Cary
Lawmakers Object to Yucca Mountain Money Switch
The News Tribune, March 24, 2010

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