, May 8, 2009 (ENS) - The Obama administration has decided to terminate the program to develop the nation's only permanent geologic repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu indicated as much last month in a Senate hearing, and the Department of Energy's budget request released Thursday spells out in detail how the administration is going to approach management of the many thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and Defense Department waste from the nation's weapons production.
The FY 2010 budget request of $197 million for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, a cut of more than $90 million from last year, "implements the administration's decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain program while developing nuclear waste disposal alternatives," the budget document states.
View of the north and south portals at Yucca Mountain (Photo courtesy DOE)
All funding for development of the Yucca Mountain facility would be eliminated, such as further land acquisition, transportation access, and additional engineering for the repository on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, about 80 miles northwest of the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
Remaining funding for Yucca Mountain in the FY2010 budget will be spent on a Blue Ribbon Commission that will examine alternate options for meeting the federal responsibility to manage and ultimately dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from both commercial and defense activities.
The panel will provide recommendations that will form the basis for working with Congress to revise the statutory framework for managing and disposing of the waste.
The DOE will continue its participation in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license application process now underway, consistent with the provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. And work on the project will be phased out in preparation for its final shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a long-time opponent of Yucca Mountain, claims credit for the demise of the progam.
"After receiving the smallest budget in its history through the work of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump will be shutdown," Reid's office said in a statement Thursday.
"It's over with - Yucca Mountain is gone," exulted Reid.
The law establishing Yucca Mountain as the repository in which to store the country's nuclear waste was signed by President George W. Bush on July 23, 2002.
But a series of delays due to legal challenges, concerns over how to transport nuclear waste from more than 120 locations in 39 states to the facility, and political pressures resulting in underfunding of the construction have plagued the project, and there is currently no official date set for opening.
The funding reduction for DOE's used nuclear fuel management program at Yucca Mountain means consumers of electricity from nuclear energy facilities should not have to continue paying a monthly surcharge on their electric bills into the Nuclear Waste Fund, said Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group.
"While the Energy Department is obligated by law and by contract to dispose of used nuclear fuel and should continue to seek to license the Yucca Mountain facility as required by law, it is only fair that the financial burden of supporting this program be lifted from consumers," said Fertel. "There is ample money in the Nuclear Waste Fund to finance this program at the level reflected in this budget proposal."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu explains his department's budget request. (Photo courtesy DOE)
The total presidential FY 2010 budget request for U.S. Department of Energy detailed Thursday by Energy Secretary Steven Chu is for $26.4 billion - more than the budgets of the Department of the Interior and the U.S. EPA put together.
The FY10 budget request is in addition to the $38.7 billion the Department of Energy will invest as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a total of more than $65 billion.
Secretary Chu's strategic framework for spending that $65 billion has five interlinked goals, the first of which is investing in science to achieve "transformational" discoveries.
The Obama administration's "commitment to transformational discoveries, breakthrough science, and innovative technologies" is key to the nation's effort to obtain reliable, clean, safe and secure energy, create new jobs and fight climate change, the secretary said.
In FY 2010, the request is for $4.9 billion, an increase of four percent over FY 2009, for science research. This is in addition to the $1.6 billion of Recovery Act funding that is focused on investments in construction, facilities, and research.
The second goal is, "Fostering the revolution in energy supply and demand while positioning the United States to lead on global climate change policy." This is interlinked with Chu's third goal of increasing American economic competitiveness
"The President's budget for energy reflects his commitment to ending our dependence on foreign oil, restoring our scientific leadership and putting Americans back to work through investments in a new green energy economy,” Chu said.
A Nobel Laureate atomic physicist by profession, Dr. Chu considers nuclear energy to be "safe and reliable." The DOE requests $383 million to research and develop "advanced nuclear technology and fuel cycle technologies with improved safety and proliferation-resistant characteristics."
Funding for next-generation, Generation IV, nuclear plants would rise to $191 million in the budget request, a six percent increase from the current year. Nuclear fuel cycle research and development would receive $192 million, a 32 percent increase from the current year.
"These technologies will support potential of nuclear power as a secure, efficient, cost-effective, and emissions-free source of energy," according to the DOE budget document.
At the same time, President Barack Obama has called the threat of nuclear proliferation "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” He has announced a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
Remediating radioactive contamination at the DOE's Savannah River Site (Photo courtesy DOE)
Chu's fourth stated goal is reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation, advancing nuclear legacy cleanup, and maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The FY 2010 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration's Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation program provides $2.1 billion in FY 2010, and $11.7 billion through FY 2014 to detect, secure, and dispose of dangerous nuclear material worldwide.
Through the NNSA, the department requests $6.4 billion for weapons activities to support stewardship of America's nuclear weapons stockpile. The department requests $1 billion for the naval reactors program to support cradle-to-grave stewardship of nuclear propulsion plants that power the nation's naval nuclear fleet, as well as commencement of several new research and development initiatives.
"The budget supports existing cooperative nonproliferation initiatives and begins to meet the President's goal of a world without nuclear weapons," according to the budget document.
The installation of radiation detection equipment at border crossings and Megaports is covered in the budget request and so are funds for an quickened schedule of repatriation for Russian-origin highly enriched uranium fuel by the end of 2010.
The FY 2010 budget request provides $1.9 billion over five years for the construction of U.S. facilities to dispose of of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium in fulfillment of a commitment with the Russian Federation under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement of September 2000.
Accelerated environmental cleanup gets $5.8 billion under the Environmental Management program to remediate or dispose of hazardous, radioactive legacy waste from the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic weapons that ended World War II, and the Cold War. Added to Recovery Act investments of $6 billion, these funds will allow accelerated cleanup and closure of sites, focusing on activities with the greatest risk reduction.
A FY 2010 budget request of $190 million for Legacy Management supports the department's long-term stewardship responsibilities and payment of pensions and benefits for former contractor workers after site closure.
Secretary Chu's fifth goal is improving the management of the Energy Department to implement the $26.4 billion FY 2010 request and $38.7 billion of Recovery Act funds.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.
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