Yucca Mountain, Potential Home for Hanford Waste, Could be Delayed for more than 10 Years - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Yucca Mountain, Potential Home for Hanford Waste, Could be Delayed for more than 10 Years

A U.S. Senate committee voted to cut spending for a national nuclear waste repository in Nevada and raised questions about how the Yucca Mountain project was being redesigned.

The Appropriations Committee allocated $494.5 million for the project in an Energy Department spending bill for 2007, $50 million less than the Bush administration requested.

Committee members said they wanted more information from the Energy Department about how used nuclear fuel would be packaged at reactors and managed at the repository, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a senior Appropriations Committee member and a Yucca Mountain repository opponent, wrote parts of the legislation - including a call for a Government Accountability Office audit of the project's budget.

Yucca Mountain has been proposed as the nation's repository for nuclear waste, including that from Hanford.  Reid's been fighting against it.

In a budget report, senators told the Energy Department to limit spending on repository transportation activities and a planned waste canister handling complex at the Yucca site, and to hold spending below this year's levels on other redesign components.

"The committee is concerned that the department is redesigning the repository with significant changes," the committee said, adding that the changes and delays in the program, "have forced the committee to reconsider the project's budget needs."

The GAO audit request grew out of a Clark County study earlier this year that suggested the Energy Department might be budgeting for engineering tasks that are "premature" considering the site has not been licensed, a Reid aide said.

The Yucca Mountain "go-slow" directive is in a bill that authorizes Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to designate sites for temporary spent fuel storage in states that have nuclear power plants.

The bill approved the $250 million the Bush administration requested for 2007 for a nuclear waste reprocessing initiative called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

The parts of the bill dealing with waste "acknowledge that the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump is failing and that we must look at other solutions," Reid said.

DOE officials in October started redesigning its plans for handling radioactive spent fuel at reactor sites and at the proposed Yucca facility.

Congress in 2002 approved the Energy Department plan to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste at the Yucca site.

The department wanted to open the dump in 2010, but allegations that government scientists skirted quality control requirements and a federal court's invalidation of the government's proposed radiation safety standards have pushed back the opening date.

The department now says it hopes to open the repository by 2020, but won't give an exact date.

Officials say they plan to apply for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license in the 2008 fiscal year - a decade after the federal government was contractually obligated to begin accepting spent fuel from nuclear utilities.

Associated Press