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Yucca Teeyacketyak: US politicians push to solve geological disposal

i May 13th No Comments by

In a rare display of bipartisan fervour which united the country the US House of Representatives voted 340-72 to support the proposed geological disposal facility at Yucca Mountain.  However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer immediately made clear that the House’s Bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

John Shimkus, the Illinois Representative leading the legislative charge, is not disheartened as he believes that in continually pushing the issue and getting people “on the record” will build pressure on the Senate to present their own plans.  His optimism is shared by  Maria Korsnick, President and CEO of the US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), who said:   “The industry recognises that the House and Senate have differing views on how to reform the used fuel programme.  We encourage the two bodies to continue to advance their respective proposals and reach a compromise by the end of the year.”

There are some interesting observations from a British perspective on what is currently happening on the other side of the Atlantic, eg:

  • clear political and media acceptance that for environmental, human health, national security and cost reasons radioactive waste cannot be left indefinitely in interim surface stores, and that geological disposal is the best available solution
  • recognition that despite the difficulties continued bipartisan political pressure is required to progress geological disposal — and the urgency with which that is being done
  • the scale of media coverage of the House vote reveals that American media are far more engaged and informed than their British counterparts choose to be
  • the political logjam in the US is an unavoidable consequence of their constitution — whereas British Ministers are considering actively creating such logjams with a proposed local authority ‘veto’.

A more detailed review of what the US House of Representatives voted for can be found here, but some key points, in addition to funding the next stage of technical assessments of the Yucca Mountain site, include:

  • authorising interim storage, including private storage initiatives, until Yucca Mountain is ready to start receiving used fuel
  • increase the statutory limit of used fuel to be placed in the repository to 110,000 tonnes from the present 70,000 tonnes

Representatives from Nevada, who oppose Yucca, tabled many amendments but only one was accepted for a vote.  Their amendment to establish a consent-based siting process for finding a site for a permanent nuclear waste repository was rejected by 80 votes to 332.  This does not mean the US Congress is opposed to a consent-based approach, but that this amendment was seen as a way for Nevada to block progress on Yucca.

It would seem that Yucca Mountain will continue to occupy the political agenda in Washington DC, with growing pressure on the Senate to respond to the House’s repeated efforts to deal with the issue.  Given mid-term elections, potential change in Senate majority, and the vulnerability of Nevadan Senator Dean Heller, it is unlikely that the Senate Republican leadership will sanction any action until after the November elections.

Yucca will certainly continue to fill the pages and airtime of American media.  As can be seen on our international media pages and below, the US media dedicate a lot of space to the issue:

Time Magazine reviews not just the current Bill, but provides a recent political history of the Yucca Mountain project.  Story also covered in a wide range of national, regional political and trade media, eg: NBC News, CBS News, ABC NewsThe Hill, Salt Lake Tribune, Miami Herald, Business Insider, Boston Globe, Santa Fe New Mexican, US News & World Report, Seattle Times, Utility Dive, The Columbian, New Jersey Herald, Newsmax, Roll Call, World Nuclear News, Mail Online, Kallanish Energy; and even as far afield as the New Zealand Herald, Norway’s Bellona, and India’s The Hindu

This story also covered by US local and regional media, commenting on the implications for radioactive waste stored currently at a nuclear site in their area, eg: Arkansas Online; California’s San Diego Union-Tribune, Sacramento Bee, San Clemente Times, CBS Sacramento, KPBS, The Press-Enterprise, Good Day Sacramento, Sierra Wave, San Francisco Gate; Connecticut’s The Day; DC’s Ripon Advance; Georgia’s Augusta Chronicle; Florida’s St Augustine Record; Illinois’ Chicago Tribune; Indiana’s WANE; Maine’s Press Herald; Massachussets’ Patriot Ledger, Mattapoisett Wicked Local, Cape News; Michigan’s Detroit News; Minnesota’s Star Tribune, Republican-Eagle, Mankato Free Press, Post Bulletin; Missouri’s St Louis Post-Dispatch; New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press, Press of Atlantic City; New Mexico’s Albuquerque Journal, Carlsbad Current-Argus; North Carolina’s Star News Online, Winston-Salem Journal; Ohio’s News-Herald; Oregon’s East Oregonian, KDVR ABC News12, Hood River News; Pennsylvania’s Go Erie, Sun Gazette; Tennessee’s Bristol Herald Courier; Texas’ Chron.Com, San Antonio Express-News; Washington’s Tri-City Herald, Daily Herald, NEWStalk; Utah’s St George News; Virginia’s Daily Progress; Wisconsin’s State Journal

Nevada media unsurprisingly unhappy with the vote, as noted in NBC News 3 Las Vegas, Reno Gazette Journal, Sparks Tribune, Mesquite Local NewsLas Vegas Review-Journal, CBS Channel 8 Las Vegas, Nevada IndependentABC Channel 13 Las Vegas, KLAS-TV, KOLO News8, KXL101 FM News, Fox5 Las Vegas.  One media outlet even provides a chronology of events at Yucca.

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