Domenici on Yucca and Interim Storage

Sen. Domenici sees no light for DOE's Yucca Mountain fix

Mary O'Driscoll
PM senior reporter

Sept 6, 2006

The Energy Department's legislative fix for the troubled Yucca Mountain nuclear repository appears dead for the year, according to Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

Domenici, long a key figure in the congressional nuclear power debate, today said the only nuclear waste legislation he is pursuing this fall is the interim storage language he added to the fiscal 2007 Energy and Water spending bill.

Also the chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, Domenici's remarks likely signal the death this year of DOE's multifaceted plan to speed up the process of licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

When asked if he would pursue DOE's legislative proposal this year, Domenici shook his head and said, "No."

At the same time, before adjournment Domenici intends to introduce his own version of the "fix-Yucca Mountain" bill to stimulate discussion of the matter for next year, a spokeswoman said. She did not provide further details on the bill.

Of the spending rider, Domenici said, "I'm glad it's in there" in reference to the fiscal 2007 appropriations bill that funds DOE. The proposal directs the department to enter into consultation with state governors to establish interim sites for consolidation and preparation of power reactors' nuclear waste for eventual disposal at the repository, to be located under a desert mountain range 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"I wish we could get it out of the Senate to give us something to work with," Domenici told reporters.

Under Domenici's proposal, DOE would own and operate the sites and also would be required to take over the waste stored at "dead plant" sites --those plants that have been shut down and in some cases dismantled.

A coalition of Northeastern governors sent a letter to the Senate last month urging lawmakers to reject Domenici's proposal, which could establish as many as 31 interim storage facilities for nuclear waste. The governors and a growing chorus of state-level officials contend that such a move would undermine the federal government's commitment to establish a single repository at Yucca Mountain.

Beyond this opposition, the fate of Domenici's proposal is not at all clear even in Congress. It has run into strong opposition from lawmakers in the House, so if it becomes part of the Senate's official position on the Energy and Water appropriations bill, a hot debate is likely to follow in conference -- if it gets to a conference. The most likely scenario for the energy spending bill, observers say, is that it will be part of larger omnibus bill that Congress probably will act on near Christmas during a post-election, lame-duck session.

DOE's bill, which is strongly supported by the nuclear power industry, is intended to jump-start the process of building the chronically delayed Yucca Mountain repository so that it can open by 2017. It would help boost funding for the repository by giving DOE easier access to future annual Nuclear Waste Trust Fund contributions. It also would take the important step of allowing for permanent withdrawal of 147,000 acres of land at and around the repository from public use, which is necessary for the repository to get licenses.