RadWaste Monitor Vol. 10 No. 30
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July 28, 2017

House’s 2018 DOE Budget Funds Yucca Mountain

By Dan Leone

The House of Representatives has approved a fiscal 2018 Energy Department budget that would allow the agency to restart its application to license Yucca Mountain in Nye County, Nev., as a permanent nuclear-waste repository — something the Senate’s corresponding spending plan would prohibit.

The House voted 235 to 192, on a highly partisan line, to approve the 2018 Make America Secure Appropriations Act: a so-called mini-bus spending package that includes roughly $30 billion for the Department of Energy and more than $950 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Within those totals is $150 million — $120 million for DOE and $30 million for NRC — for Yucca and interim nuclear waste storage. The Energy Department would use the money to advance the license application the Barack Obama administration canceled in 2010, while NRC would use the money to process the application.

On Wednesday and Thursday, during a days-long debate on the House floor, members voted down an amendment from the Democratic wing of the Nevada delegation that would have allowed DOE to stop work on the proposed repository. The lawmakers had also crafted an amendment that would have stripped funding for Yucca out of the bill, but they never introduced the amendment on the floor.

The Donald Trump administration, which formally requested the Yucca restart in a May budget proposal that had long been anticipated by Washington watchers, signaled this week it would sign the House’s bill, if it reached the president’s desk. The White House, though, did express a number of reservations, including language in the bill that would forbid DOE from withdrawing money from the Nuclear Waste Fund to work on consolidated interim storage sites that would hold nuclear waste until the permanent repository is built.

In any case, the House bill is unlikely to reach Trump’s desk unscathed.

The Senate, which has yet to schedule floor votes for any of its own appropriations bills, included no funding for Yucca Mountain in its version of DOE’s 2018 budget. Instead, the upper chamber directed the department to release a request for proposals for interim nuclear waste storage sites no later than 120 days after the Senate’s version of DOE’s 2018 budget becomes law.

The Senate’s bill also would resurrect the Obama administration’s consent-based siting policy for nuclear waste. Language in a report appended to the measure requires that consolidated interim storage sites be built only with the approval of affected state, local, and tribal governments.

Meanwhile, a House aide said lawmakers in the lower chamber have no plans to take up an expansive Yucca Mountain policy bill before their annual August recess.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 cleared the House Energy Committee in late June, though it has yet to see any action in the other two committees to which it was referred after Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) — who is leading the House’s charge to build Yucca — officially introduced the bill last month.

Shimkus’ bill, as amended by the committee, would allow DOE to start work on a single interim storage site in parallel with the Yucca restart the Trump administration requested. The legislation also would remove some of Nevada’s power to oppose the project by clarifying that DOE alone owns the land on which the repository would be built, and that it may use the groundwater there to support construction and operations of the facility.

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