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December 20, 2014

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Politics:

House Republicans: Why aren’t regulators asking for money to study Yucca Mountain?

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Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The way congressional Republicans see it, the independent agency charged with studying Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site is trying to run out the clock on the project.

That’s because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tasked with studying Yucca Mountain’s viability as the nation’s nuclear waste storage site, isn’t requesting any new money in next year’s budget to continue a court-ordered study on the issue.

The commission can work with the money it still has, insisted NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane as she testified today on her commission’s budget in a congressional hearing.

But that’s not the way some congressional Republicans see it. Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, called the commission’s inaction on requesting money for Yucca Mountain “unbelievable.”

And Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio accused the NRC of avoiding its 2013 court order to restart the licensing process that could ultimately approve Yucca Mountain’s designation.

“You got money in the budget for other things, but you don’t have money in the budget for what the law requires,” he said.

Today’s congressional hearing was the latest proxy battle between congressional Republicans, who for the past three decades have supported measures that could ultimately make Yucca Mountain the nation’s nuclear waste storage site, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has found ways to stall the project since becoming Senate majority leader in 2006.

The NRC is currently working on a safety evaluation report for Yucca Mountain, the first phase of several in the licensing process that should be finished by January 2015.

But the commission only has about $13 million to complete the rest, which is barely enough to cover the first phase, estimated Bob Halstead, executive director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects at a Nevada Legislature hearing in February.

Not everyone on the NRC agrees with the chair’s position. When Shimkus pressed other NRC commissioners, at least two of the five at the hearing said they actually do support having more money to continue the licensing application process for Yucca Mountain. At least another one said he’d consider it.

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