Yucca again

Congressional legislation is expected in the next two weeks to try to accelerate opening of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.

The proposal is supported by the nuclear power lobby, state governments with nuclear power plants in their states, and the Bush administration.

The proposal is reminiscent of the 1987 measure that circumvented scientific suitability studies of three possible sites for the dump in favor of studying only Nevada, a measure that became known as the “Screw Nevada bill.”

The proposed legislation is expected to contain these elements:

· interim dumping at Yucca;

· lifting the cap on the amount of waste that could be stored at Yucca (77,000 tons would currently be permitted);

· Withdrawal of land around Yucca;

· A special funding mechanism to get around the congressional appropriations process.

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., on March 29, Minnesota, South Carolina and Maine officials called for enactment of the bill.

Richard Bryan, who as governor flew to Washington to try to stop that measure and, as a U.S. senator, fought several other attempts to pass pro-Yucca bills, says legislation of this type is a far greater threat to the state than regulatory or court procedures.

“Clearly, if that legislation passed, it would be extraordinarily dangerous,” Bryan said. “No congressional oversight, full speed ahead for every nuclear train in America.”

But Bryan also said the initiative is beginning very late in the year.

“The number of legislative days on the [congressional] calendar are surprisingly limited. … I think that would be very difficult.”

The Yucca dump was supposed to be in operation six years ago, but Nevada officials have slowed the approval process down to a crawl for more than two decades, which is what prompted the new legislation. A second opening date of 2010 has already been given up as lost, and the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to announce a new target date.

“We’re way behind already,” said Minnesota utilities regulator LeRoy Koppendrayer. “The ratepayers’ money is there. Let’s use it. Let’s get the job done.” (The Yucca project is funded by federal assessments on nuclear power plants.)

In North Carolina, where state government is desperate to dump nuclear waste somewhere, the Raleigh News and Observer reported that the new legislation is being sold by the Bush administration with a sales pitch that it will relieve political pressure on members of Congress to start the search process for a second dump.

One of the groups promoting the legislation, the Yucca Mountain Task Force, was formed last year to try to get the project moving. It has been wooing Nye County officials and businesspeople.