New legislation moving through Congress revives a controversial plan for the Energy Department to begin storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain years before the completion of an underground repository.
Federal law forbids an interim repository in Nevada, but a bill to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee next week says the landscape has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and since Congress designated Yucca Mountain last year as the site to bury the nation's nuclear waste.
Highly radioactive spent fuel stored in 39 states is now at a greater risk and should be moved to"a centralized storage facility, located at the Yucca Mountain repository site, at the earliest possible date,"according to a copy of the bill report obtained Friday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The provisions are part of a 2004 spending bill for Energy Department programs and sets an aggressive path for the Yucca Mountain Project, setting aside $765 million in spending for next year _ 29 percent more than the Bush administration requested.
"Nevada's worst nightmare is about to be realized unless we can stop this insanity,"Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said."This is going to be heavy lifting, no doubt."
The long-held prohibition against interim storage in Nevada was established to prevent nuclear waste from being sent to the state and kept in canisters aboveground if plans fail for an underground repository. President Clinton vetoed a bill in 2000 that would have accelerated delivery of nuclear waste to the Yucca site before underground storage could be completed.
The new bill, authored by Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, directs the Energy Department to draft legislation to repeal the restriction.
It also orders the department to put together a budget plan for aboveground storage and a strategy to acquire shipping containers that could be used both for transportation and for interim storage.
Under the bill, the DOE would be allowed to spend up to $4 million next year on early waste acceptance.
The bill also would allow for the"movement of significant quantities of spent nuclear fuel beginning in 2007."Current DOE plans call for an underground repository to become operational in 2010.