WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants to bury tens of thousands of tons more nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada than now allowed — part of a package of new proposals meant to spur development of the controversial and long-delayed dump.
Legislation unveiled by Energy Department officials Tuesday proposes lifting the 77,000-ton storage cap on the dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas and allowing as much waste as the mountain can hold. That figure has been estimated by federal environmental impact studies at 132,000 tons.
Some 55,000 tons of nuclear waste are already waiting at utility sites around the country.
The department also proposed dedicating money in a special nuclear waste fund to the dump, to try to ensure adequate funding. The bill also would allow federal officials, who hope to ship nuclear waste to the dump by rail, to pre-empt state and local transportation regulations.
Certain nonnuclear elements of the dump — including the rail line to get there — could be built before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues a license needed to build the dump.
"This proposed legislation will help provide stability, clarity, and predictability to the Yucca Mountain project," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a statement.
The bill will be introduced in the Senate by Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M. It faces a fight from ardent Yucca Mountain dump opponent Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate minority leader.
Reid on Tuesday said the bill was "not even on life support. It's dead when it gets here."
The bill does not propose moving nuclear waste to interim storage sites while the Yucca Mountain dump is completed — something key lawmakers want the department to consider.
Yucca Mountain was approved by Congress in 2002 and officials wanted it to open in 2010. Energy Department officials now say they hope to open it by 2020, but they won't give an exact date. They don't plan to apply for the NRC license until the 2008 fiscal year.
The dump, which has cost $9 billion so far, has suffered a series of setbacks. They include a criminal investigation into accusations that government scientists flouted quality control requirements, and a federal court's invalidation of the government's proposed radiation safety standards for the dump.