ENERGY POLICY:

McCain to push Yucca closure, ratepayer refunds

Arizona Republican John McCain said today that he will promote amendments to a Senate energy bill that would abandon the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste dump and refund about $16 billion in waste fees to electricity ratepayers.

Congress should "move on to other options" for high-level nuclear waste disposal, since the Obama administration has made it clear Yucca Mountain is no longer a viable option, McCain said as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee began marking up the first provisions of a comprehensive energy bill.

McCain said he disagreed with the administration's choice to rule out Yucca Mountain, but since nuclear power is "vital" for U.S. energy needs, the nation must consider other options. McCain said his amendments would shutter Yucca Mountain and repay fees paid by electricity customers for building a repository. He said other nuclear amendments would address fuel reprocessing.

"I am deeply concerned about the lack of nuclear power in the equation" both by the administration and in the energy legislation, he said.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the committee will designate some time during the markup to consider nuclear energy and waste. The panel is expected to have the next markup in a series of four or more the week of April 27, the second week after Congress returns from its April recess, he said.

Bingaman said he would propose establishing a commission to consider alternatives to Yucca Mountain.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has begun setting up a "blue ribbon" panel to examine alternatives for nuclear waste. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced a bill this month to establish a similar commission but said last week that he would defer to Chu, although he would take part in deciding the panel's membership.

Bingaman said he had not seen details of DOE's panel, nor had he finalized his own bill for a commission, and so could not comment on the similarities or differences between them.

McCain said Chu had "made it very clear reprocessing will not be a viable option, either" -- tying the hands of any commission considering alternatives to Yucca Mountain. "I am not sure I would like to serve on that commission, given that those two options are ruled out," he said.

Bingaman and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the administration had not ruled out reprocessing, as far as they understood, but was considering it as a long-term option.

"It's not something that could be done tomorrow," Dorgan said. "It's a big issue that will be discussed and should."

Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she was looking forward to McCain's amendments to have a "robust discussion on how we ensure nuclear is a part of the energy solution for this country."

Murkowski has been critical of the administration's decision to move away from Yucca Mountain without another solution for the waste. "It ought not to be this nebulous," she said.