New impetus from Yucca legislation

07 March 2007

Legislation intended to 'facilitate' the development of the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste respository project has been submitted to the US Congress.

The US Department of Energy (DoE) submitted the legislation on 6 March. DoE chief Sam Bodman said: "This legislative proposal reflects the administration's strong commitment to advancing the development of the Yucca Mountain repository, while seeking to provide stability, clarity and predictability in moving the project forward."

In particular, the bill would:

  • Permanently withdraw from public use the land at and surrounding the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. This is a licensing requirement of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to help assure protection of public health and the environment.
  • Remove the statutory limit of 70,000 t of disposal capacity of the eventual facility "in order to allow maximum use of the mountain's true technical capacity." Studies have concluded that a repository inside Yucca Mountain could hold over 132,000 t.
  • "Facilitate Congress' ability to provide adequate funding" for the project. The DoE said: "Funding reform is necessary to correct a technical budgetary problem that has acted as a disincentive to adequate funding."

Other language in the bill addresses provisions for a more streamlined licensing process and for initiation of infrastructure activities such as safety upgrades and rail line construction to enable a faster start-up of operation.

The bill is effectively a revised version of one that failed to make progress in 2006. Bodman said that the new bill would "continue the conversation" with opponents of Yucca Mountain.

As Nevada's Senator, Democratic majority leader, and head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Harry Reid has long been bitterly opposed to Yucca Mountain. He said the bill was "just the department's latest attempt to breathe life into this dying beast and it will fail." Calling Yucca a "dump" he said he would continue to oppose it.

Storage delay costs

The DoE was supposed to have taken over management of utilities' used nuclear fuel in 1998 for permanent storage, charging US nuclear utilities one-tenth of a cent for each kWh they produced since 1982 to cover the costs. However, it was only in 2002 that Yucca Mountain was confirmed as the final storage site, and current estimates putting completion in 2017 have been described as optimistic. As a result, utilities have stored their used nuclear fuel at more than 100 sites in 39 states at their own expense - effectively paying twice for used fuel storage.

Over 60 utilities have launched legal action against DoE over the matter, with potential compensation payable by the department amounting to billions of dollars. On 6 March, Duke Energy has become the latest utility to reach a legal settlement with DoE over its extra costs. The company will receive an initial payment of �56 million from the US Treasury Judgement Fund for costs up to the end of July 2005, with additional amounts reimbursed annually for future storage costs.

Further information

Duke Energy

US Department of Energy Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management