Nuclear agency begins work to consider Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking steps to review the planned revival of the long-dormant nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

The nuclear agency said Tuesday it will spend up to $110,000 from its current budget to gather documents and other information about the Yucca Mountain site, which the Obama administration abandoned in 2010. The Trump administration has begun steps to revive the repository site amid bipartisan opposition from Nevada lawmakers.

The nuclear agency said its preliminary activities “will enable efficient, informed decisions” as officials prepare to consider an expected Energy Department application to store spent, radioactive fuel from the nation’s commercial nuclear fleet at the remote site outside Las Vegas.

Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican seen among the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents in 2018, called the NRC’s action “irresponsible” and “yet another waste of taxpayer money on a failed project that has already cost the federal government billions of dollars over the past 30 years.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, a possible Senate challenger next year, blasted the NRC’s action as a way for the Trump administration to “stack the deck against Nevada and ... revive the unworkable Yucca scheme.”

The money being spent by the NRC is “the tip of the iceberg” in a project that could cost ratepayers billions of dollars, she said.

The Energy Department has dismantled much of its infrastructure related to Yucca since 2010, with key personnel retired or at new jobs and “truckloads of related resources and documents” moved to facilities across the country, Titus said.

NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki said the decision to spend $110,000 in previously appropriated funds was “not a resumption” of an administrative proceeding suspended by the agency in 2011. Rather the action launched “appropriate steps to develop the agency’s readiness” to consider the Yucca Mountain project, if it proceeds as expected, she said.

Svinicki, a Republican, was named NRC chairman by Trump earlier this year and has served on the panel since 2008.

The NRC has estimated it would cost at least $330 million to complete a multi-year review of the Yucca Mountain project. The agency has requested $30 million for Yucca-related costs in the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Democrat Jeff Baran, one of the NRC’s three voting members, said it was premature to restart the Yucca review.

While President Donald Trump’s budget request includes money to revive Yucca, “we have no idea whether Congress will ultimately approve Nuclear Waste Fund monies for this purpose,” Baran wrote in a memo to fellow commissioners. “Rather than making predictions about Congress will choose to do ... NRC should await Congressional action,” he added.

Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this story.


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