Congress should expand Yucca Mountain capacity: DOE

WASHINGTON Tue Dec 9, 2008 6:03pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress should expand the capacity of the planned U.S. nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and delay a decision on whether to commission an additional dump site, the U.S. Energy Department said in a report released on Tuesday.

"Unless Congress raises or eliminates the current statutory capacity limit of 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal, a second repository will be needed," Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said in a statement.

The current capacity is not based on technical restrictions and the country's waste inventories will exceed that limit by 2010, the department said.

The long-delayed nuclear waste dump is not expected to be opened until 2020 at the earliest, the department said in June.

According to the report, the repository layout at Yucca Mountain can be expanded to hold three times or more than the amount of waste now allowed at the site.

If the capacity was tripled then Yucca would be able to handle the wastes from the existing fleet of reactors, even if they were allowed to operate for 60 years.

Even with increased capacity, however, a second waste dump may be necessary if more nuclear plants are built.

By expanding the scope of the Yucca site, the department said the government will have more time to consider the need for an additional site, how much additional capacity may be needed and what waste management approaches to pursue.

U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat, condemned the report's call for what she called "supersized" dump.

"We can safely store nuclear waste at existing reactor sites for the next 100 years, which will keep this toxic nuclear garbage out of the hands of terrorists and off our roads and railways where it poses a danger to more than 50 million Americans," Berkley said in a statement.

Berkley said she will continue to work against burying nuclear waste outside Las Vegas.

The Energy Department released the study to Congress and the White House to comply with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which required a report on the need for a second repository by January 2010.

Located about 90 miles from Las Vegas, the Yucca site is designed to hold millions of pounds of radioactive waste from U.S. nuclear reactors underground and tons of leftovers from the country's nuclear weapons program.

Nuclear waste is currently stored at 121 temporary locations in 39 states across the country.

A separate report released by the Energy Department on Tuesday said the department would not be able to develop a plan to accept waste from decommissioned commercial nuclear power reactor sites for temporary storage as requested by the House Appropriations Committee this year.

"The Department has concluded that, without legislation, a demonstration project accepting spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned nuclear reactor sites could not be completed in the near term and would not reduce taxpayer costs for waste disposal," director of the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Ward Sproat, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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