House Panel OKs Yucca Mountain Money

A House committee approved legislation Thursday aimed at resolving a budget problem that threatens the proposed nuclear waste facility in Nevada.

The bill still faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

The legislation, passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a 29-19 vote, would assure a steady stream of money for the Yucca Mountain (search) nuclear waste project over the next five years. The measure would keep the project on schedule to open in 2010, assuming it gets a federal license.

Money for the project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas was cut recently to $131 million for next year, a fraction of the $880 million requested by the Bush administration.

The House bill requires that at least $750 million collected into a special nuclear waste fund each year be spent on the Yucca project. This would allow lawmakers to come up with the additional money the Energy Department wants.

Lawmakers traditionally have used the nuclear waste fund to offset other spending and to help narrow the federal deficit. Many of them are reluctant to go along any legislation that would change that practice.

The House bill also is certain to run into trouble in the Senate where it would need 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles.

Sen. Pete Domenici, (search) R-N.M., is testing congressional sentiment on another way to give the project more money. He has proposed a one-time annual surcharge to collect an additional $446 million from electricity users to make up the shortfall for Yucca Mountain next year.

The nuclear industry has criticized Dominici's plan, saying that electricity consumers already have paid $22 billion into the nuclear waste fund, $15 billion of which has not been spent.

The department hopes to submit a permit application for the Yucca project with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (search) in December and open the facility by 2010.

The underground facility would have room for 77,000 tons of defense waste and used reactor fuel now at commercial power plants in 31 states.