No money for Yucca in new bill

A new Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Wednesday has no money for Yucca Mountain licensing.

The approved bill however includes a pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage, introduced by senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. It also includes language that allows DOE to store nuclear waste at private facilities that are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A $37.5 billion measure will fund Department of Energy programs and critical infrastructure projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, according to the press release from Thad Cochran, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The bill represents a $355 million increase over the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $261 million more than President Barack Obama’s original budget request.

“The bill provides added resources to strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrence posture, ensure nuclear stockpile readiness and safety, and prepare for existing and future nuclear threats,” a press release said.

The Energy Department is developing a consent-based siting program for a pilot storage facility for spent fuel from shut down reactors, a larger consolidated interim storage facility for spent reactor fuel, and a geologic repository at a site other than Yucca Mountain, officials said.

Several Nevada officials expressed their opinions on the approval of the bill.

Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Director Robert Halstead said the verbiage in this year’s bill was consistent with the one from last year.

This year’s draft bill had proposed $150 million for the Nuclear Waste Disposal program and $20 million for the NRC to advance the Yucca Mountain license application.

“At first glance, it seems to be a cookie-cutter repeat of what the House Appropriations Committee passed last year,” he said about the bill.

The state of Nevada is against new funding for Yucca Mountain, should the bill pass the House of Representatives and the Senate, Halstead said.

“We oppose having DOE and NRC proceed any further. We are prepared to meet all the challenges, identify deficiencies in the license application and will argue that NRC should deny the license request, should it go forward,” he said.

In addition, Halstead said two private sector companies that provide dry cask storage systems for reactors are going forward with plans for interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico.

In a letter to Feinstein and Alexander on Wednesday, Nevada Congressman Dean Heller requested to “honor the wishes” of the state of Nevada and exclude funding focused on the Yucca Mountain license application from the proposal.

“Instead, I urge the subcommittee to prioritize funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) efforts to advance alternative long-term storage options for our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste,” Heller said.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid released a statement where he said that the Yucca Mountain project “is dead and will remain dead.”

“It is incumbent upon Nevada’s entire delegation to stand up for our state and reject efforts to force Nevada to be the nation’s nuclear waste dump. The Senate bill doesn’t provide one penny to Yucca. Instead, we are working on consent-based solutions that don’t force nuclear waste down the throats of people who don’t want it in their state,” he said.

Reid is a Senate Minority Leader and is serving his final year in senate. He has been a staunch opposer of burying tons of nuclear waste in the mountain located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Darrell Lacy, director of the Nye County nuclear waste project office said early Thursday that he hadn’t seen the bill yet but said it was “consistent” with the last few years when the House of Representatives put funding in and the Senate did not.

“The real question will be what happens after Harry Reid leaves office,” Lacy said.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at On Twitter: @dariasokolova77