Lawmakers seek to keep Yucca nuclear waste dump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department’s push to scrap a long-planned national nuclear waste dump in Nevada has run into stiff opposition as lawmakers on Wednesday questioned the Obama administration’s decision.

The remote Nevada site of Yucca Mountain is seen in this 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer

A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a resolution of disapproval in the House of Representatives on Tuesday aimed at making the department stop efforts to shelve the project and maintain all records relating to the proposed storage site.

Lawmakers on a House Appropriations subcommittee grilled Energy Secretary Steven Chu about plans to cancel the repository at Yucca Mountain.

These moves may signal trouble for the administration’s pledge to scrap the Yucca site, fiercely opposed in Nevada and by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who represents the state.

A panel of experts that the administration named to devise a strategy for handling nuclear waste has been preparing to hold its first public meetings on Thursday and Friday.

The administration this month asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to withdraw the license application to build the site. The decision leaves 2,000 metric tons of used fuel produced each year by U.S. nuclear plants with no permanent home.

“Keeping waste scattered across the country ... is no longer an option,” Representative Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington state, said in a statement. “We have a solution to this problem and we must move forward.”

Several influential members of the House have signed on to Inslee’s resolution, including Democratic Representative John Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“I will do all I can to make sure some funding goes to defend the Yucca Mountain license application this year,” Spratt said in a statement.

A resolution of disapproval is not legally binding, but House aides say it could be cited in lawsuits filed against the government over canceling the project.

Republican Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey asked Chu whether his department had legal authority to unilaterally dismantle the project.

Chu defended the decision, saying “things have evolved” since the time Yucca Mountain was chosen as a waste site.

The White House has said Yucca Mountain is an unsuitable location to hold radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants. Critics have raised concerns that the site could pollute drinking water and is too close to earthquake fault lines.

Last week a group of U.S. state utility regulators filed a motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow them to make their case against allowing the department to pull the Yucca application.

The Energy Department said it is in the process of planning for the closure of the Yucca Mountain project, but said it would retain scientific and other records.

Editing by David Gregorio