The White House will propose eliminating the budget and office in charge of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday.
Reid said the administration budget to be unveiled today will merge the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management with the Office of Nuclear Energy, and the separate funding stream for Yucca will be eliminated.
The budget will also state that "the department will take steps to withdraw the license application in the near future," according to Reid.
"This is great news because it not only prevents Nevada from becoming the nation's nuclear dumping ground, it also protects hundreds of communities through which the waste would have had to travel in order to get to Yucca," Reid said in a statement.
The White House had already promised to significantly decrease the program's funds, and it appeared the real debate was between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the White House Office of Management and Budget about how much funding is necessary to wind down the project and save important data. The facility's budget was slashed last year from $288 million to $197 million. DOE has spent more than $13 billion on the project since 1983.
In preparation of the project's elimination, DOE also announced members of a "blue ribbon" panel to find alternative solutions to Yucca Mountain for the nation's nuclear waste last week (E&ENews PM, Jan. 29).
But there are still questions about how the program can be eliminated while Yucca Mountain is still by law the nation's solution for nuclear waste and how the license can be pulled without exposing the government to millions or even billions of dollars in liability payments.
Under DOE's contract with utilities, the federal government was supposed to have started taking spent fuel from power plants by 1998. Utilities have so far recovered more than $7 billion for the partial breach of contract from Treasury's general judgment fund.
State regulators and utilities are also wondering whether they still have to pay nearly $750 million per year in fees on electricity from nuclear reactors slated for a waste repository. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and several other prominent Republican senators have questioned whether the fees should be waived, eliminated or placed in escrow while the nation decides on its next step.
The fees go to the Treasury Department for use in the general fund every year, and without them Congress would need to cut spending or find alternative sources of revenue to make it up.
On paper, the nuclear waste fund is worth about $25 billion.