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Nuclear waste storage in limbo as Obama axes Yucca Mountain funds

Funding for the nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain was eliminated in the president's budget proposal. Planning begins anew for long-term storage even as Obama urges a nuclear-power expansion.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / February 1, 2010

San Francisco

Plans to bury America’s nuclear waste inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a project that has long been the subject environmental and political opposition, appear all but dead.

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Funding for the nuclear repository was eliminated in President Obama’s budget proposal released Monday. What’s more, according to the Las Vegas Sun, the Department of Energy has moved to suspend licensing for the desert storage site.

"This is great news because it not only prevents Nevada from becoming the nation's nuclear dumping ground, it also protects hundreds of communities through which the waste would have had to travel in order to get to Yucca," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who represents Nevada, in a statement released Sunday on his website.

Senator Reid has been leading the charge in Congress against the Yucca Mountain repository project, which Congress designated in 1987 as the country’s likely spot for holding spent nuclear reactor fuel.

More nuclear plants – and more waste – ahead?

But even as a permanent solution to nuclear waste storage appears more elusive than ever, Mr. Obama’s budget promises more money with which to encourage the development of new nuclear power plants.

"This budget supports new approaches to energy research and invests in the next generation of scientists and engineers, and it will spark new clean energy projects nationwide, including restarting the American nuclear power industry," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday in a statement.

The budget adds $36 billion to Department of Energy loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, bringing the total amount of those guarantees to $54.5 billion. Obama heralded nuclear power in his recent State of the Union address, too, in which he called for a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”

Environmentalists bristled over the call for more nuclear reactors. Greenpeace said this: “There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ dose of radiation and just because nuclear pollution is invisible doesn't mean it's ‘clean.’ ”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called plans to increase loan guarantees for nuclear projects “a mistake.”