Sen. Craig pushes bill for temporary waste storage

By N.S. Nokkentved
Times-News writer

Monday, March 15, 1999

TWIN FALLS - Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, plans to introduce a bill today to create a temporary storage site for highly radioactive waste from commercial power plants.

The bill would create a temporary storage site near Yucca Mountain, Nev.

Yucca Mountain is a prime candidate to be the nation's disposal site for spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. Though used, spent nuclear fuel is still highly radioactive and remains dangerous for 10,000 years.

The federal Energy Department has opposed previous attempts to create a temporary storage site in Nevada, saying it would undermine efforts and sap funds to establish a permanent disposal site.

Past bills have enjoyed broad support in Congress but failed in the face of veto threats by President Clinton. Nevada's congressional delegation also has vehemently opposed temporary storage in Nevada.

The Energy Department is under court order to collect spent reactor fuel stored at about 70 commercial power plants around the country. The department was supposed to have taken possession of the waste by January of 1998. But so far, the Energy Department has no place to put it.

If built, the Yucca Mountain facility would dispose of highly radioactive waste now stored at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Nuclear waste would be moved to the temporary site and await completion of the permanent disposal facility. But some scientists have questioned whether Yucca Mountain will be safe for as long as the waste remains radioactive.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who supported the interim storage bill last year, said he favors research to find a way to shorten the lifespan of nuclear waste. He said it is impossible to prove the permanent Yucca site would reman safe for 10,000 years.

By shortening the time the site has to contain the waste, the complexity of problem would be decreased, Domenici spokesman Chris Gallegos said.

Joining Craig in introducing the bill will be Sens. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rod Grams, R-Minn.

Times-News staff writer N.S. Nokkentved can be reached at 733-0931, Ext. 237.