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Nuclear Waste Funding Slashed in 2006 Energy Budget

Published by MAC on 2005-11-09

Nuclear Waste Funding Slashed in 2006 Energy Budget

November 9, 2005

Envirnomental News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC - Plans for the nation's first permanent high-level waste repository appear to be faltering. Legislators agreed Monday to a $30.5 billion energy and water budget for Fiscal Year 2006 that cuts spending for storage of high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada and requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to assess risks of storing spent nuclear fuel at the power plants where it was used.

The Senate and House joint conference report provides a total of $450 million for Yucca Mountain, the nation's first permanent geologic high-level waste repository at a desert location 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on the grounds of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.

Language is included directing the Department of Energy to begin a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan and to set up a competition to determine if there are communities or states that want to volunteer to be the site for a recycling reprocessing facility. The lawmakers allotted $50 million for these activities.

"No matter what side of Yucca you're on, the truth of the matter is Yucca is not on the schedule that even was predicted the last time. It's behind schedule," Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee.

The $450 million budget is "just barely enough to keep it alive," said Domenici, a Yucca Mountain supporter. Senator Harry Reid, a longtime opponent of Yucca Mountain, said he was successful in slashing the budget for the Yucca Mountain project, planned to contain 77,000 tons of the country's most highly radioactive material - waste from Defense Department sites and spent nuclear fuel. The Department of Energy had previously said the agency would need $1.2 billion to keep the project on track.

"The Yucca Mountain project is fraught with inadequate science and insidious mismanagement," Reid said. "The project is never going to open and each year we grow closer to killing it." Last year Energy Department officials had hoped to quickly submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and open Yucca Mountain by 2010.

But a series of stumbling blocks have slowed the project, including the discovery of employee emails showing falsification of scientific data and a court ordered rewrite of radiation safety standards.

Opponents, including all Nevada's elected officials, argue that the site cannot safely contain the highly radioactive waste. They fear the transport of 77,000 tons of waste by road and rail from 139 sites around the country cannot be accomplished without a nuclear accident.

Currently, there is no date set for submission of the Yucca Mountain license application and no scheduled date for opening the repository.

Yucca Mountain, Nevada is about 100 miles northeast of the gambling resort city of Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy Nevada DEP)

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that the administration is committed to both Yucca Mountain and spent nuclear fuel recycling.

In a speech at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference in Washington, Bodman said, "Solving the problem of how to store spent fuel will reap tremendous benefits for America's future and will help set the stage for an expansion of nuclear power."

"And permanent geological storage at Yucca Mountain offers the safest, most secure solution for dealing with this challenge," he said.

In other matters, the conference report drops funding for a proposed bunker-buster nuclear warhead at the request of the Energy Department. Opponents had argued that development of the weapon that could destroy deeply buried targets, such as bunkers drilled into solid rock, could add to nuclear proliferation. Instead the administration plans to pursue a conventional weapon that can penetrate underground targets.

For nuclear energy, the House-Senate conference report provides $557.57 million; $226 million is included for nuclear energy research and development of next generation nuclear power plants.

The conference report provides $3.63 billion for scientific research, which is $170 million above the request sent to Congress by President George W. Bush and $32 million above last year's level. Almost 10 percent of these funds restores funding for domestic fusion research at $290 million to harness nuclear energy that fuses atoms to create energy as the Sun does instead of splitting atoms to create energy as we do today.

Part of the $3.6 billion goes to fully fund the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This accelerator based neutron source is being built at Oak Ridge by the Department of Energy to provide the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development. At a total cost of $1.4 billion, construction began in 1999 and will be completed in 2006.

The budget approves $15 million to initiate a Nanotechnology Technology Transfer fund for developing the techniques of creating materials molecule by molecule or atom by atom. The conference report provides $1.83 billion for energy conservation and conservation, which is $81.5 million above the President’s request and $24 million above the Fiscal Year 2005 level. Funding of $157 million for hydrogen technology development and $184 million for advanced vehicle technologies are included.

The legislators agreed to spend $220 million to build the nation's first facility where weapons-grade plutonium would be processed into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in commercial power reactors. The $4 billion plant is to be built at the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina by the consortium Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster.

The purpose of the MOX program is to ensure that plutonium produced for nuclear weapons and declared excess to national security is converted to forms that are resistant to proliferation.

The conference report supplies the $337 million budget President Bush requested for the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab in California. Senator Domenici had attempted to cut construction funding for the giant laser being built to simulate the explosion of a hydrogen bomb.

The lawmakers agreed to fund the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the $5.4 billion level, $1 billion above Bush's request. The $8 million requested by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, for the Corps to design a plan to bring south Louisiana up to Category Five hurricane protection.

For nuclear nonproliferation activities, the House and Senate conferees allotted $1.63 billion, which is $6 million under the President’s request but $138 million above last year'sfunding level. The funds will be used to increase research and development of nuclear detection technology, address emerging threats, and to further the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. This initiative repatriates all Russian and U.S. origin fresh highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel and the replacement of it with low enriched uranium that cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.

After the conference report is approved by the full House and Senate, it goes to the President's desk for his signature, which enacts the measure into law.

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