Planned nuke dump to miss 2017 target

The target opening date for a controversial nuclear waste dump is "no longer realistic" following budget cuts, the official in charge of the project has admitted.

Edward “Ward” Sproat, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management at the US Department of Energy (DOE), said the Yucca Mountain facility, in Nevada, could not be opened in 2017 as planned.

Speaking before the Nevada State Legislature, Mr Sproat blamed a spending bill approved by Congress last month that slashed the programme’s requested budget by £108m.

He warned that hundreds of jobs will be lost and it is unlikely the programme will submit its licence application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by June 30 as expected.

Mr Sproat said: “I cannot stand behind the June 30 2008 date as of right now until we evaluate what the budget impact is going to have on us.

“There are going to be significant layoffs, most of them from the state of Nevada.”

He added: “Exactly how many people and who they are, we don’t know yet.”

Most of the budget shortfall will be taken out of funds for transportation, Mr Sproat said, meaning construction of a railway line to Yucca Mountain which was due to start in 2009 would also have to be suspended.

Earlier this month, the DOE ended a public consultation on environmental impact assessments for Yucca Mountain, which is situated about 100miles north west of Las Vegas.

Mr Sproat said thousands of comments had been received, and were now being examined by his staff.

Among them was the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). Its economics campaigner Aja Binette told a hearing in Washington: “Unfortunately Yucca Mountain is a study in undermining democracy. It is not a solution to highly radioactive waste.”

There has been widespread opposition to the project since the DOE first began studying the site in 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for the USA’s first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Kate Martin

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