Murray's Yucca Mountain amendment dies in Senate

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerJuly 23, 2010 

WASHINGTON — An amendment to restore money to license the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear repository failed in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

However, the committee did approve the Senate version of the proposed Hanford budget of almost $2.2 billion for next year. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., succeeded in increasing the budget proposed by the Obama administration for Hanford by $50 million.

However, her amendment to restore $200 million to allow work to continue on licensing the repository failed on a vote of 13 to 16, with all Democrats but Murray and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana opposed.

Hanford's high-level radioactive waste has been expected to go to Yucca Mountain, but the Obama administration is shutting the project down and has proposed a fiscal 2011 budget with no money to continue work to license the plant.

"I personally believe the Obama administration made a serious mistake when it zeroed out money for Yucca Mountain," Murray said at the hearing. "Over the last 30 years, industry studies, Congress and previous administrations all pointed to and funded Yucca Mountain as the nation's best option."

Billions of dollars have been spent at Hanford and the nation's other nuclear sites to treat and package waste to go to a national repository, she said.

When she questioned Energy Secretary Steven Chu on why the Obama administration believed Yucca Mountain is not a workable option during a March hearing, he couldn't give an answer based on scientific merit, Murray told the committee.

The courts will decide if DOE can abandon Yucca Mountain, but in the meantime, work needs to continue to license the repository, she said.

"The senator from Washington has been persistent and relentless in her position," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy and Water Development.

But Obama campaigned in opposition to Yucca Mountain and putting money back in the budget for it won't change the fact that the management and technical program for the project have been dismantled and workers scattered to other programs, Dorgan said.

"Yucca at this point is only a project on paper," he said. It would be bad policy in a tight budget year to tie up $200 million while the nation waits to see how legal issues play out, he said.

Murray pointed out that two-thirds of the nation's defense waste planned to be sent to Yucca Mountain is in her home state. Used commercial nuclear power fuel also had been expected to be sent to the repository.

Instead, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has been formed to consider options, but has been told not to consider Yucca Mountain.

Among the highlights of the proposed Senate Hanford budget is an increase from $690 million to $740 million for the vitrification plant being built to treat high-level radioactive waste.

That increase was included in the administration's proposed Hanford budget in February, and the increase Murray was able to insert this month includes money to clean up contaminated ground water at Hanford and to speed up demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

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