Bush Budget Would Increase Funds For Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain
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President Bush is seeking a big increase in spending for Yucca Mountain in the $2.4 trillion budget he sent to Congress on Monday.

The plan for the 2005 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, proposes $880 million for the nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert - an increase of $303 million over 2004.

The large increase is necessary because the project, approved in 2002 over the objections of Nevada officials, is moving toward licensing and construction, Energy Department officials said.

"This request enables us to finalize the license application for construction of the permanent repository, as well as other activities associated with construction and with developing a transportation system to Yucca," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

The budget also proposes tapping a dedicated user-fee account to earmark money for Yucca Mountain, instead of requiring it to compete with other projects each year.

Nevada's congressional delegation reacted angrily to the proposed funding increase and to the Nuclear Waste Fund plan.

"At a time when budget deficits are an urgent concern and there are funding demands for the war in Iraq and homeland security that must be met, it is unacceptable," said Sen. Jon Ensign, R-Nev.

About $13 billion is in the Nuclear Waste Fund, money that's been collected since 1982 from fees charged to customers of nuclear utilities. The fund takes in about $750 million a year.

The budget proposal would direct the money coming into the fund be reserved for Yucca Mountain, Abraham said, though Congress would still determine the amounts appropriated. Similar proposals have failed in the past, but Abraham said the project has advanced enough that he thinks Congress will see the need for the plan.

"As you move into the phase of submitting the license application, beginning to develop a transportation plan ... I hope they'll recognize that the costs will begin to dramatically increase," he said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and others in the delegation pledged to fight the proposed budget and the funding change, arguing it would exempt the project from congressional oversight.

"Budget oversight is the only way to hold DOE to any kind of accountability," he said.

The Energy Department hopes to begin storing nuclear waste at the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in 2010. It would hold 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste that is now stored at commercial and military sites around the nation.

The department aims to submit a licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December.

In past years Reid and others in the delegation have trimmed funding for the project to below what the president requested.

But in 2002 Bush and Congress approved the site, and Republicans regained control of the Senate, costing Reid his chairmanship of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees Yucca Mountain's budget.

The delegation failed to significantly reduce Bush's 2004 funding request: he asked for $591 million, and received $577 million.