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Yucca funding: Another $100 million cut

Updated Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | 4:03 p.m.

Yucca Mountain

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

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WASHINGTON -- Congress today proposed slashing Yucca Mountain's funding by nearly another $100 million for the remainder of fiscal 2009, severely gutting the project and potentially forcing several hundred job layoffs in Nevada.

The House announced the new funding level as part of its proposed funding package to keep the government running until Oct. 1. Current funding expires in March.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had promised further reductions were coming as part of his continued efforts to kill the nuclear waste project. Funding already had been cut more than 20 percent over the past two years.

Workers at the project;s headquarters in Summerlin have been bracing for layoffs. Many of them are already leaving.

The House proposes $288.3 million annualized for the remainder of the fiscal year, down from $386.4 million approved for the project last fall.

Allen Benson, a spokesman for the Department of Energy in Nevada, said the reduced funding "is something we had been hearing for some time now."

Benson estimates the workforce would drop from almost 1,400 contractors and federal employees to fewer than 900.

The department also is planning to relinquish some of its office space at its headquarters in Nevada.

Congress is expected to vote on the bill in coming weeks. Congress last year passed only a six-month spending bill for federal government operations, unable to resolve differences with then-President George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama is expected to soon release his first budget, the fiscal 2010 spending plan. Reid has said the new budget is expected to all but zero out funding for Yucca Mountain.

Nevada’s lawmakers welcomed the steep cuts.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley said a House vote on the funding package was expected by week’s end.

“I am thrilled that once again we are slashing the amount of radioactive pork that is being spent on the failed Yucca Mountain Project,” Berkley said. “This $100 billion boondoggle in the Nevada desert is a dinosaur whose days are numbered.

Reid said that over the past year Bush’s original request had been reduced by more than 40 percent.

“For more than 20 years I have been fighting to protect Nevadans and end the wasteful spending that is the Yucca Mountain Project,” Reid said. “I am pleased that I was able to further cut Yucca’s budget and help make brighter the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Obama opposed the waste dump on the campaign trail and has vowed Yucca Mountain will not open as a nuclear waste repository.

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