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Planet Ark World Environment News Shutting Yucca Dump Ignores US Law-House Lawmakers

Date: 02-Jun-11
Country: USA
Author: Roberta Rampton

The Energy Department ignored the law by shutting down a controversial Nevada nuclear waste site because of opposition within the state, Republican and Democratic lawmakers complained at a hearing on Wednesday.

A plan to bury radioactive waste from nuclear power plants deep inside Yucca Mountain has been debated in Congress and the courts for decades, but after a tsunami swamped Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March the issue has taken on new urgency.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu killed the Yucca plan in 2010, citing opposition from people in the state.

After tense and repeated questions from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Peter Lyons, the Energy Department's top nuclear official, acknowledged there was no scientific or technical reason behind the decision.

Lawmakers said the decision went against a law that designates Yucca Mountain as the permanent storage site.

"It is the law, period," said Doc Hastings, a Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

"I just want to tell you it's unacceptable by any administration of any party," said Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington state.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME

The United States has almost 65,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel stored at 75 sites in 33 states, according to government data.

Most of it is stored in pools alongside nuclear plants, now considered more dangerous since the Japanese nuclear disaster.

A "blue ribbon" panel appointed by the Obama administration to look for alternatives to Yucca Mountain has said the government should build a network of sites to hold waste for up to 100 years until a permanent site is found.

But lawmakers were skeptical other communities would be willing to host storage facilities for the radioactive waste.

"It's going to smell the same, no matter what name we put on it," Inslee said.

Republican John Shimkus, who is helping to lead a probe into the Yucca shutdown, complained the administration was throwing away $15 billion already spent on the plan and risked at least another $15 billion in damages owed to utilities for delays in taking ownership of storing the waste.

The chairman of the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be replaced for his role in stalling the project, said Mike Simpson, a Republican in charge of House appropriations to the NRC and the Energy Department.

Before his appointment to the NRC, Chairman Gregory Jaczko had been a top aide to Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who led opposition to the Yucca Mountain project.

Simpson's appropriations committee released a draft budget bill on Wednesday that would set aside funds for both the NRC and Energy Department to continue work on the site.

Nevada Representative Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, said the government should not spend any more on the project, noting 77 percent of people in the state oppose it.

"We don't want our home turned into a nuclear garbage dump and we oppose more wasteful spending on a $100 billion dinosaur in the Nevada desert that should have gone extinct years ago," she said.

But rural counties close to the site said they are open to the idea as long as an NRC review says it is safe.

"It is my community. My family and friends live and work here," said Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Board of County Commissioners in Nevada.

(Editing by Jim Marshall)

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