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NRC members: Private interim storage could be licensed faster than Yucca

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NRC members: Private interim storage could be licensed faster than Yucca

The Trump administration has revived hopes for a long-term nuclear waste storage repository at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, but private interim storage sites may be faster to license, three Nuclear Regulatory Commission members said June 7.

NRC Acting Chairman Kristine Svinicki and Commissioners Jeff Baran and Stephen Burns testified on the agency's fiscal-year 2018 budget request before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. The Trump administration has requested $952 million for the NRC in fiscal year 2018, including $30 million on efforts to support activities for the proposed Yucca Mountain deep geological repository. Industry groups praised the proposal's funding for Yucca Mountain licensing, but quicker solutions to the national nuclear waste storage stalemate may exist.

Svinicki told the subcommittee the NRC will take about three years to review two applications for private interim storage projects that are pending before the commission. One application is for a storage facility in southeastern New Mexico submitted by Holtec International. The other application is for an above-ground facility in Texas, but developer Waste Control Specialists asked the NRC to suspend review of that project while the company conducts a business acquisition.

The NRC's acting chairman declined to say whether Yucca Mountain could more quickly take spent fuel than the interim storage projects but estimated the licensing for the private initiatives would be faster. Svinicki said the NRC would take about three to five years to issue a licensing decision on Yucca Mountain, up to two years beyond what she projected for private interim projects. Baran, however, cautioned that the licensing time for the private projects could be longer if they are challenged through the NRC's adjudicatory process.

Opposition from Democrats, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, prompted the Obama administration to defund the Yucca Mountain initiative and halt its licensing review in 2010. But Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are hopeful that President Donald Trump will restart the project. In his "skinny budget" for fiscal year 2018 released in March, Trump called for a combined $120 million to resume Yucca licensing and fund a "robust" interim storage program to handle the country's spent nuclear fuel.

"I believe that Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution," Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said at the June 7 hearing. Alexander and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have co-sponsored past legislation that would support development of short-term storage sites and create a consent-based process for siting new facilities, but the proposal has encountered opposition from industry groups and other lawmakers.

"Today, we have 78 sites and no place for nuclear waste," Feinstein said. "We don't seem to be able to get together."