February 23, 2006

US nuke industry wants no Yucca waste dump limit

By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration should
remove federal limits on the amount of nuclear waste that could
be stored at a proposed waste dump in the Nevada desert, U.S.
nuclear industry lobbyists said on Thursday.

The government's plan to build an underground waste dump in
the Nevada desert about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas is more
than 10 years behind schedule and continues to be plagued by
scientific foul-ups and political stonewalling.

In coming weeks, the Bush administration is expected to
send its latest legislative proposal to Congress, with the aim
of moving the stalled plan forward. Republican Pete Domenici,
chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and a nuclear industry
proponent, will lead that effort in Congress.

Officials at the Nuclear Energy Institute, which lobbies
for the utility owners of the 103 U.S. nuclear power plants,
say the administration should remove the 77,000-ton limit
(70,000 metric tons) on waste allowed at the site.

"This capacity limit is something that needs to be dealt
with," Steve Kraft, the group's senior director of used fuel
management, told reporters, calling the current number an
"artificial limit" that was driven by politics, not science.

Kraft declined to say what the new limit should be, but
pointed to Energy Department studies that show that Yucca
Mountain could hold up to 115.5 tons (105 metric tons).

At the rate that waste is stacking up at U.S. nuclear
plants, Yucca Mountain could be fully subscribed when it opens,
Kraft said.

Spent fuel from the nation's nuclear plants -- which supply
about 20 percent of U.S. electricity -- is piling up, with over
50,000 tons (45,500 metric tons) of it stored at over 100
temporary locations in 39 states.

The administration should also freeze a per-kilowatt fee
that nuclear operators pay into a federal fund, and waive rules
that require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to certify that
nuclear waste can be moved to a federal storage site like Yucca
Mountain by a certain date, Kraft said.

Such rule changes will clear the way for the nine to 12 new
nuclear plants that the Nuclear Energy Institute expects to be
built in the United States over the next 20 years, Kraft said.

Despite delays, the Yucca dump should open by 2025, Kraft
said. "The scientific basis hasn't changed," he said. "The
(Energy Department) has run into a series of bumps in the road
that they need to straighten out."

According to Energy Department officials, the
administration's proposal would ensure that funds Congress set
aside to build Yucca Mountain are secure. Opponents of the plan
-- including Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid -- have
attempted to strangle the project by cutting off funds.

The administration proposal would also reserve about
147,000 acres of federally owned land to build a railway
corridor to transport spent fuel to the Yucca Mountain site.

"The draft legislation is still being tweaked," an Energy
Department spokesman said. "When appropriate, (we) will submit
it for congressional consideration."

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Energy Institute has hired Alex
Flint, the Senate energy panel's staff director, who will
become a senior vice president for governmental affairs later
this year.