VIENNA (Reuters) - A controversial Nevada site is not an option for storing toxic waste from nuclear power plants, a senior U.S. official said, dismissing Republican efforts to revive the Bush-era plan.
“We do not see Yucca Mountain as a solution here,” U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said on the sidelines of a major international meeting to strengthen global nuclear safety after Japan’s Fukushima atomic crisis.
“It is time to turn the page and try to find a better set of solutions,” he told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
The world has struggled with what to do about nuclear waste for decades, but Japan’s nuclear disaster three months ago brought fresh attention to the dilemma as much of the waste is now stored in pools next to reactors.
The plan to house atomic waste at Yucca was approved by then-President George W. Bush in 2002 but opposed by people in Nevada who feared it could pollute water and hurt tourism.
Last year, the Obama administration asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pull an application to license the dump, and named a panel of experts to look for other options.
But this month, Republican lawmakers said the regulator had found the site suitable for storing nuclear waste, despite administration claims the location was unsafe.
Poneman said: “I think any policy — the success of which can only be measured over many decades — can only succeed with strong bipartisan support and strong support from the communities affected.”
“It was equally clear that Yucca mountain was not going to have that kind of support,” he added.
The head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency opened the week-long nuclear safety meeting by calling for countries to do risk assessments of their reactors within 18 months, to make sure they could withstand extreme natural events of the kind that crippled Fukushima.
Yukiya Amano also proposed strengthened international safety checks, or peer reviews, on reactors worldwide organized by the U.N. body. The plan may meet resistance from those that want to keep safety an issue strictly for national authorities.
Poneman said the United States, which has 104 nuclear reactors of the world total of some 440 and is carrying out post-Fukushima safety checks, was a “strong supporter” of peer reviews and it would study Amano’s proposals closely.
“We have called in the IAEA many times to provide additional oversight,” he said.
“I think the question that is going to be presented is whether the mandate of the IAEA is going to run to that additional level,” Poneman said, when asked whether such reviews by the agency could become mandatory.
The United States still sees nuclear energy as having a “very important role to play in a low carbon future,” he said, referring to U.S. government loan guarantees of more than $8 billion to support the construction of nuclear reactors.
“It is not a decision for governments to make but rather for utilities to make when those reactors will be economically viable to build. But it is certainly something that we are still supporting,” Poneman said.
Editing by Clarence Fernandez