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NRC votes to fund info-gathering on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository

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NRC votes to fund info-gathering on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository

Efforts to revive the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage repository in Nevada have taken a small step forward, stoking the ire of Nevada lawmakers who oppose the project.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 2-1 to approve spending up to $110,000 on information-gathering activities "as the next logical steps in the Yucca Mountain licensing process," according to a July 31 memo from NRC Secretary Annette Vietti-Cook. The commission, which announced the decision Aug. 8, said the information gathering will support any further action on Yucca Mountain that Congress may authorize.

"These activities will enable efficient, informed decisions in support of executing any further appropriations of funds for the high-level waste program," the NRC said. The commission directed agency staff to hold a virtual meeting regarding the reformation of the licensing support network or a suitable replacement. The network was an online database of nearly 4 million documents supporting the adjudicatory hearing on the Yucca Mountain application. The network was decommissioned in 2011 after the Obama administration halted the Yucca Mountain project.

President Donald Trump has proposed setting aside money for Yucca Mountain licensing, and the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives included $150 million in a fiscal 2018 spending bill to revive licensing for the project.

The $110,000 for information gathering will come from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which had $634,000 in unobligated appropriations as of June 30. NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki and Commissioner Stephen Burns voted in favor of the funds, with Svinicki noting the activities "are not a resumption of the suspended proceeding" but are "appropriate steps to develop the agency's readiness to execute the budget requested for the high-level waste program in fiscal year 2018."

NRC Commissioner Jeff Baran disapproved the expenditures, saying Congress may ultimately not appropriate Nuclear Waste Fund monies for information gathering. "Taking this step would be seen as a clear signal from NRC that the agency intends to resume the Yucca Mountain adjudication," Baran said. "The agency would be asking interested parties to begin spending their own resources to prepare for a proceeding that may or may not move forward in the near term. I do not believe that NRC should take such a step without knowing whether Congress will decide to appropriate funds for the licensing proceedings."

Despite the House's proposal to provide money for Yucca Mountain, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations did not include funds for the project in its fiscal 2018 energy and water spending bill. Nevada lawmakers in Congress have fought to keep the project from moving forward.

The NRC's Aug. 8 announcement "is another sign that the Trump administration continues to stack the deck against Nevada and maneuvers to revive the unworkable Yucca scheme," said U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. "These funds are the tip of the iceberg in a project that would cost ratepayers at least $80 billion." Titus said the NRC should save these funds from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a consent-based project in a state that wants a repository.