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August 19, 2014

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Senate nuke energy champ wants alternative to Yucca Mountain

WASHINGTON - Here's a news flash: The Senate's longtime champion of nuclear energy said today that other communities, not just Nevada's Yucca Mountain, should be considered for storing the nation's nuclear waste.

New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici's comments this morning reflect Washington's deep frustration over the Department of Energy's endless delays at Yucca Mountain. The nuclear industry has quietly been soliciting other communities as potential hosts for a repository, and Domenici said he would introduce legislation that would free up money from the Yucca Mountain account to do just that. Dong so would represent a major policy shift on Yucca. The multi-billion-dollar Yucca fund is considered sacred, having been built from fees collected from ratepayers in states with nuclear energy.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley was the first of Nevada's lawmakers to seize on the comments as a further sign that "the true waste piling up at Yucca Mountain is the billions of dollars that have been spent to date on this hole in the Nevada desert."

“Senator Domenici today dropped a bombshell on the DOE when he said we should be looking at New Mexico as an alternative to Nevada for high level nuclear waste disposal," Berkley said in a statement. Domenici suggested the type of geography found in his home state could be considered for a repository of waste from utility plants alongside.

“The myth that Yucca Mountain is the only place we can store this radioactive waste has been shattered by the senior Senator from New Mexico," Berkley said. "He calls Yucca Mountain a box canyon because its failures cannot be overcome, including an $80 billion price tag and the risk to 50 million Americans from decades of nuclear waste shipments to Nevada."

Domenici's comments came as both Senate and House appropriators this week are considering Energy's budget requests for the coming year. The department promises to meet its summer deadline for submitting the long-awaited license for the waste dump at Yucca.

In his comments, Domenici's said he no longer believes focusing solely on a permanent repository in Nevada is the way to go, fearing the Yucca only strategy that does not include efforts to recycle waste is "deeply flawed." "I believe this path will prove to be the highest cost solution and it fails to take advantage of recycling," Domenici said. "We should pursue a comprehensive waste strategy led by an approach to recycle spent nuclear fuel with the remaining waste to be put in either Yucca Mountain or another suitable site such as deep salt formations," such as a site in New Mexico that now stores less toxic waste.

He said his legislation would free up a portion of the waste fund for storage and recycling sites.

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