US panel says local support crucial for nuclear waste sites

By Matthew Daly
Associated Press / July 30, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Efforts to replace a disputed nuclear dump in Nevada are doomed unless officials generate local support for alternative sites, a presidential commission said yesterday.

In an interim report, the 15-member panel suggests building regional storage sites to warehouse spent nuclear fuel for up to 100 years while officials seek to build a permanent burial site.

In a move likely to stir opposition in Congress, the panel also recommends that money being paid by nuclear operators for long-term storage be set aside for that purpose, rather than counted against the federal budget deficit. About $750 million a year is paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund, which has a balance of about $25 billion.

Commissioners said they recognize that their recommendations would add to the federal deficit, at least on paper, but noted that the federal government is contractually bound to use the money to manage spent nuclear fuel.

“The bill will come due at some point,’’ the report said. “Meanwhile, failure to correct the funding problem does the federal budget no favors in a context where taxpayers remain liable for mounting damages.’’

Trying to implement the current “deeply flawed program’’ for nuclear waste is likely to cost even more, the panel said in its 180-page report, which was released yesterday on the commission website.

The panel, formally known as the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, also suggested creating an organization, independent of the Energy Department, to locate and build a site to permanently bury nuclear waste.

The Obama administration created the commission last year after canceling a contentious plan to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles outside Las Vegas. Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic Representative of Indiana, and Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser, are the commission’s cochairmen. Hamilton and Scowcroft declined to comment yesterday. A final report is due in January.

Commissioners said in the report that they approached their task with a sense of urgency, not only because of the failure of the Yucca Mountain site, but also because of the nuclear crisis triggered by an earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged a nuclear plant in Japan.