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U.S. government may be forced to take steps on nuclear waste


March 16, 1999
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal government could be compelled to start storing the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada far sooner than it is now prepared to do.

The White House wants to focus money and effort on constructing a permanent disposal site, and thinks the thousands of tons of spent nuclear rods should remain at their respective power plants until a repository starts collecting waste in 2010.

But a new bill introduced by Senate Republicans would require storing the nation's nuclear waste at the Nevada Test Range by 2003, seven years before the White House wants to act.

The proposal backed by the nuclear industry was presented Monday by Alaska Republican Frank Murkowski, and was expected to draw opposition from President Clinton, who vowed to veto a similar bill approved by the Senate and the House last year.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in January 1998, the Department of Energy must begin taking America's commercial nuclear waste," said Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

He said a viability assessment released late in 1998 showed no reason to stop considering the Nevada Test Range and Yucca Mountain (Nevada) for interim storage.

"Do we really want nuclear waste piling up at 71 sites around the nation rather than one?" Murkowski asked.

"Is it better stored at the arid, remote Nevada Test Site, where we exploded scores of nuclear bombs during the Cold War, or at 71 sites near our homes, schools and playgrounds."

Murkowski downplayed a new administration plan to assume ownership of the used nuclear fuel, saying the fact the some 30,000 tons of waste would remain at plant sites did not solve the problem.

Nuclear utilities and states have taken the federal government to court over the issue of waste storage.

The Supreme Court last year let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling that refused to force the DOE to start taking the waste, but did allow utilities to seek compensation for storage costs.

The nuclear industry, congressional Republicans and a number of states have charged DOE with misappropriating the more than $15 billion collected since 1982 in consumer fees meant to pay for storing spent nuclear fuel.

The mid-December DOE viability assessment called Yucca Mountain, a site some 90 miles from Las Vegas, a "promising" site for the permanent waste repository, pending more research on its safety.

A final recommendation is due in 2001.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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