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Report: Obama’s Yucca rejection may delay waste plans, cost billions more

Published: Wednesday, May 11 2011 11:45 a.m. MDT

May 10 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obamas rejection of plans for a nuclear waste dump at Nevadas Yucca Mountain may delay the opening of a repository by at least 20 years, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

While scrapping the project may result in finding a better alternative and help avoid costly delays, it also may prompt an expensive and lengthy search for a new site, the GAO, Congresss investigative arm, said in a report released yesterday by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican.

The House panel is investigating Obamas 2009 decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain waste site. Almost $15 billion has been spent on the project since 1983, with $9.5 billion coming from the publics electric bills, according to the GAO. Upton said Obama abandoned the site, which was opposed by leaders in Nevada such as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, solely for political reasons.

Its alarming for this administration to discard 30 years of research and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, not for technical or safety reasons, but rather to satisfy temporary political calculations, Upton said in a statement. The work to derail the Yucca repository over the last two years may have set back our bipartisan efforts by two decades.

65,000 Metric Tons

U.S. regulators have grappled for decades to resolve how to store nuclear waste, which can remain radioactive for at least 10,000 years. The U.S. has more than 65,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel, enough to a fill a football field almost 15 feet deep, according to the GAO. The volume of such waste is expected to more than double by 2055, the congressional auditors said

Political and social opposition remains the main obstacle to establishing a permanent repository for U.S. commercial and military nuclear waste, according to the GAO.

Some of the officials we spoke with estimated that the termination of Yucca Mountain could set back the opening of a new geologic repository by at least 20 years and cost billions of dollars, the GAO said in the report.

The Energy Department strongly disagreed with the GAOs findings, including the assumption that the Yucca Mountain repository would have opened in 2020, the auditors said.

The Yucca project produced years of continued acrimony, dispute, and uncertainty, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Feb. 11 letter to a 15-member commission the administration appointed to weigh storage alternatives.

The Energy Department acted responsibly in carrying out the Yucca Mountain project shutdown and will continue to do so, Katinka Podmaniczky, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

According to The New York Times, the administration killed the repository program without citing technical or safety issues.

With assistance from Brian Wingfield in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak. To contact the reporter on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipmanbloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebertbloomberg.net

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