A proposal has surfaced in Congress aimed to spur a revival of the Yucca Mountain project by providing necessary land and water rights to build out the site if federal officials find that nuclear waste can be buried safely inside.
Sources said limited copies of the legislation itself have been shared on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Energy. The provisions appear to track the goals of House Republicans who have insisted that Yucca Mountain be a part of the mix as Congress sets a new strategy to manage the growing inventory of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel accumulating at commercial power plants.
The proposal would allow the Department of Energy to contract with companies willing to gather the waste and place it in centralized interim storage — but only after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completes a review of Yucca Mountain and decides whether the controversial Nevada site can safely hold the material for periods up to a million years.
It also would authorize community benefits including payments and authority for federal agencies to prioritize prized activities for states hosting the repository or interim storage facilities.
The most controversial provisions would grant a formal land withdrawal for construction to start at the Yucca site and the water rights necessary for the repository to be built.
Nevada, which has battled the Yucca Mountain Project as unsafe and unwanted, has fought federal lawsuits after refusing to grant water rights for the endeavor. A bid in Congress to overrule a state’s control over water could prove highly controversial.
“This is a guarantee of lengthy litigation,” said Bob Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
In another likely hot-button issue, the proposal would allow a license amendment so that the capacity of a Yucca Mountain repository could be expanded beyond its current 70,000-ton limit set by law.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., has been the most outspoken proponent in Congress of reviving the Yucca project. He has said he was forming a nuclear waste bill, others said it appears the new plan is being put together by more senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, possibly including its chairman, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and its top Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.