Senate committee chairman questions timeline for Yucca |

Senate committee chairman questions timeline for Yucca

Erica Werner

WASHINGTON (AP) – A Senate committee chairman says the Bush administration’s new timeline for opening the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada in 2017 ignores the possibility of lawsuits and delays.

“Experience has shown that the schedule for Yucca is a slippery thing,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told the project’s new director on Thursday.

“My concern is that the new timetable does not include any margin for any further project delays by the (Energy Department), its contractors, or legal action by the state of Nevada all of which would cause DOE to miss these new deadlines,” Domenici said at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The dump originally was supposed to open in 1998. Last year, the department abandoned a 2010 deadline.

Edward F. “Ward” Sproat, director of the department’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said he understood Domenici’s concerns about the latest timeline.

“I’m not saying that was the most probable schedule. I said it was the best achievable schedule,” Sproat said.

Even if the 2017 scenario were to come true, Domenici said, there already would be enough nuclear waste at commercial reactors and defense sites to fill the Yucca Mountain site, and it would take until 2040 to move all that waste.

Currently, there are more than 50,000 tons of nuclear waste piled up at commercial nuclear power plants in 31 states.

The administration wants to lift the 77,000-ton storage cap on the dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas and allow as much waste as the mountain can safely hold – 132,000 tons or more.

Domenici said the solution also includes a new effort to recycle nuclear waste, as well as an interim storage plan he has proposed.

Sproat has expressed doubts about the interim storage plan, saying it could take nearly as long to set it up as it would to begin moving waste to Yucca Mountain.

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