Bush Budget Would Give Small Boost to Yucca Mountain Funding

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President Bush is asking Congress to spend $494.5 million in 2008 on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. It's a smaller figure than the administration's recent requests but a slim increase over what Congress approved for this year.

Energy Department officials hope the money would let them complete a required license application for the dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas by the summer of 2008. With Yucca Mountain foe Harry Reid, D-Nev., running the Senate, they aren't attempting more significant progress on the dump, which has been set back by controversies and delays.

"The goal here is to try to create an application for a license in another 18 months," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a news conference. "There are various other physical aspects, to improve
the physical facilities and so forth at the site, which we are not pursuing.

"It's not a matter of retrenching, it's a matter of trying to recognize where our priorities are," he said.

The funding request was part of a $2.9 trillion spending plan Bush sent to lawmakers Monday - the first time he's submitted a budget request to a Democratic-controlled Congress. The plan covers the 2008 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The 2008 request for Yucca Mountain is about $90 million more than Congress agreed to for the current fiscal year. Congress approved about $405 million for Yucca Mountain this year after Bush asked for $544 million. Congress authorized $450 million in 2006 after Bush requested $650 million.

The final budget figure for Yucca Mountain was $577 million in 2004 and 2005; $460 million in 2003; and $375 million in 2002.

Yucca Mountain is planned as the nation's first national nuclear waste dump and would entomb 77,000 or more tons of highly radioactive waste in the desert. The project has been delayed by scientific controversies, as well as by political opposition and lawsuits filed by Nevada officials.

Reid has succeeded in trimming the Bush administration's budget
request for Yucca Mountain in the past, and has said he'll do so again this year. Even though Monday's proposal was smaller than in recent years, Nevada lawmakers reacted with angry claims that it was too high.

"While it is encouraging that the president's request is less than FY 07, to ask for an additional dime for this doomed project is not only fiscally irresponsible but an insult to the residents of Nevada," said Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev. "Nevadans simply do not have confidence in this project."

Budget documents released Monday say the administration will aim to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by June 30, 2008, with the hope of opening the repository in 2017. That's the timeline the Energy Department settled on last year, but officials are already indicating that it could slip.

Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said last week that the repository wouldn't likely begin to operate until 2020.

The budget documents also say that the Bush administration plans to again present legislation to make regulatory and other changes to help get the dump built.

The administration's Yucca Mountain legislation stalled in the last Congress, and Reid has said he'll block any pro-Yucca legislation in the Senate.

Reid's solution to the problem of the 50,000-plus tons of nuclear waste that already have accumulated at reactor sites around the country is to leave it where it is, stored inside dry cask storage containers.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)