Bill would speed opening of Yucca Mountain |

Bill would speed opening of Yucca Mountain

LAS VEGAS (AP) – An industry lobbying group has unveiled a plan in Washington to speed the opening of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Draft legislation by the Nuclear Energy Institute would allow interim storage of spent radioactive waste at the site and provide millions of dollars to Nevada if the state drops opposition to the project.

Copies of the proposed bill were distributed Wednesday to industry officials and to select Capitol Hill staff members who handle energy issues.

The idea was rejected by Nevada officials who said Nevada was not interested in compensation for accepting nuclear waste.

“We’ve said no before. We haven’t changed our mind,” said state nuclear projects director Bob Loux, who called the proposal a last-gasp attempt to move a stalled project forward. “We’re not interested at any price.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., called the proposal “an amazing nuclear industry wish list of everything up to and including the kitchen sink,” while Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said he thought the pro-repository trade group was “feeling desperate.”

With Congress unlikely to pass a Yucca Mountain bill during the remainder of this year’s session, a Nuclear Energy Institute official said the trade group was staking out a position for when lawmakers return in January for the final two years of President Bush’s term.

“The president has been a strong friend of nuclear, and we would certainly like to see legislation advance under his administration,” Michael Bauser, NEI associate general counsel, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Bauser said the proposed bill “represents an overview of what we see as the more important issues” facing the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The NEI proposal would pay Nevada $25 million a year during planning and construction of an interim storage site while the Energy Department works through delays in opening a permanent repository. Payments would increase to $50 million while the temporary storage site was open.

Among other provisions, the Nuclear Energy Institute proposal also would set a 10,000-year compliance period for radiation safety at the site, reversing a 2004 federal court ruling that ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to set a 1 million year safety standard.

Nuclear waste is currently stored at commercial nuclear power plants in 31 states.

The Energy Department signed contracts with utilities to begin moving the waste to a permanent repository in 1998. Bush and Congress picked the Yucca Mountain site in 2002. But progress has been slowed by budgetary constraints and safety concerns.

The project would entomb 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel in casks wheeled on rails into tunnels some 1,000 feet below the mountain. The Energy Department now plans to submit a licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in mid-2008 and open the repository in 2017.

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