Bill would give utilities, customers Yucca Mountain 'rebates'

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced Thursday would provide "rebates" from a $30 billion fund to build the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Nevada.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the bill's sponsor, criticized President Barack Obama for his decision to mothball the Yucca Mountain project, which the federal government has been developing for two decades over intense opposition from Nevada politicians, environmentalists and other groups.

"No one should be required to pay for an empty hole in the Nevada desert," Graham said. "The decision by the Obama administration to close Yucca Mountain was ill-advised and leaves our nation without a disposal plan for spent nuclear fuel or Cold War waste."

The $3.5 trillion budget Obama sent Congress on Feb. 26 slashed funding for developing the waste repository, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and a key Obama ally, has vowed to block any bid to build the waste site deep under Yucca Mountain.

Obama campaigned against the repository during his White House run last year, promising to explore alternatives that have long eluded state and federal governments.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu "has made it clear that nuclear energy needs to be part of our energy mix," said Dan Leistikow, an Energy Department spokesman. "He will be appointing a blue-ribbon panel of scientists and other experts to develop a thoughtful, responsible and comprehensive solution to our waste storage needs."

The Graham bill, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, and seven other Republican senators, would require Obama, within 30 days of its passage, to "certify that Yucca remains the preferred choice to serve as the federal repository for spent nuclear fuel and defense-related nuclear waste."

Dozens of states have waste in temporary storage at nuclear power plants. South Carolina, Washington, Idaho and several other states have large amounts of additional waste at massive federal complexes that built nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

Electric utility consumers have been paying monthly surcharges to help finance the Yucca repository, contributing more than $30 billion during the past decade.

Under the Graham measure, if Obama doesn't certify Yucca within 30 days, utilities would start getting rebates, with the requirement to pass on three-quarters of the refunds to their customers and use the remainder for plant upgrades.

The Graham bill also would mandate separate federal payments of up to $100 million a year to states with nuclear weapons waste, starting in 2017, when the Yucca central repository had been scheduled to start accepting it.

The rebates would go to utilities and residents in the 31 states that have nuclear power plants.

Utilities already have won $1 billion in court judgments against the federal government because of its failure to honor contracts that promised to begin moving the nuclear waste to Yucca in 1998.


Sen. John McCain of Arizona

Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine


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