US pushes ahead on mountain nuclear dump

Washington looks set for a political battle after the US Department of Energy presented plans to fast track a high-grade nuclear waste dump in the mountains of Nevada, stressing the need for an urgent resolution.

Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, has asked congressmen to vote the proposals through adding that there is no other plan on the table and that there is a pressing need for the US to improve its ability to manage and dispose of spent fuel from nuclear facilities and high-level radioactive waste from nuclear weapons.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would do everything in his power to block the bill when it reaches the upper house.

“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,” Secretary Bodman said.

The Yucca Mountain repository is critical to the nation’s current and future energy and national security needs, and I look forward to working with the Congress on developing a bill that can be passed by Congress and signed by the President.”

The proposed legislation would pave the way for a repository for the waste deep underground 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas and would also place permanent restrictions on land use in the surrounding area, effectively sealing off public access to the mountain forever.

But Washington faces the same problems as other national governments keen to find suitable sites for burying nuclear waste – nobody wants to play host to a facility which will blight the region for perpetuity.

The case is made harder to sell as the proposed legislation scraps the 70,000 tonne cap previously put forward for the site, ‘in order to allow maximum use of the mountain’s true technical capacity’.

Those in favour of the dump argue that this would mean a single site could cope with the entire nation’s nuclear waste for the foreseeable future.

“We have a legal and moral obligation to get Yucca Mountain opened and operating,” said Ward Sproat, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

“Currently 55,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level waste is being stored at more than 100 above-ground sites in 39 states, and that number grows by about 2,000 metric tons annually.

“By entombing it deep in Yucca Mountain – a safe and secure permanent geologic repository – we can ensure public safety for thousands of generations.”

Yucca Mountain was approved by the Congress and the President as the site for the nation’s first permanent spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste geologic repository in 2002 but the project has been plagued by delays and is already several years behind schedule.

The chosen site is close to the Nevada Nuclear Testing Facility, open in the early 1950s and used as recently as 1992.

It has the dubious claim to fame of having hosted the highest number of nuclear weapon detonations in the USA.

Sam Bond

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