The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 23:16:51 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Controversy Over Yucca Mountain May Be Ending

Controversy Over Yucca Mountain May Be Ending
By Steve Vogel
Washington Post
March 4, 2009

More than two decades after Yucca Mountain in Nevada was
selected to be the national nuclear waste repository,
the controversial proposal may finally be put to rest by
the Obama administration. In keeping with a pledge
President Obama made during the campaign, the budget
released last week cuts off almost all funding for
creating a permanent burial site for a large portion of
the nation's radioactive nuclear waste at the site in
the Nevada desert.

Congress selected the location in 1987 and reaffirmed
the choice in 2002. About $7.7 billion has been sunk
into the project since its inception. "Yucca Mountain is
not an option, and the budget clearly reflects that,"
Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Department of
Energy, said yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D- Nev.), a
staunch opponent of the Yucca project, called the Obama
action "our most significant victory to date in our
battle to protect Nevada from becoming the country's
toxic wasteland." Reid, who during primary season helped
extract campaign promises from Obama and then-Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton to stop Yucca Mountain, added:
"President Obama recognizes that the proposed dump
threatens the health and safety of Nevadans and millions
of Americans. His commitment to stop this terrible
project could not be clearer."

Less clear is what will happen next with the nation's
growing stockpile of nuclear waste. "That's a great
question," said Geoffrey H. Fettus, an attorney with the
Natural Resources Defense Council. The budget provides
no answers as to what the administration proposes to do
with the approximately 57,700 tons of nuclear waste at
more than 100 temporary sites around the country, or
with the approximately 2,000 tons generated each year by
nuclear power plants.

The Yucca site was designed specifically to handle spent
fuel rods from the nation's 103 nuclear generators. "The
new administration is starting the process of finding a
new strategy for nuclear waste," Mueller said. Keeping
the waste at temporary sites is an option in the short
term, but experts in the field say it will not serve as
a long- term answer for the problem of radioactive
waste, which will need to be kept safely stored for at
least 1,000 years. Others have advocated reprocessing
much of the spent fuel, as is being done in France, but
this too is fraught with problems, according to some
experts. Ultimately, Fettus said, the government will
have to find a new site or sites for permanent storage
of nuclear waste.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the
nuclear industry, favors the creation of a "blue-ribbon
commission to assess where we go," spokesman Steve
Kerkeres said. The Bush administration last year
submitted a license application to the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission and hoped to have the repository
operating by 2020. The Obama administration is not
withdrawing the application because of concerns about
lawsuits but, nonetheless, insists the Yucca Mountain
project will not go forward.


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