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Trump proposes restarting Yucca Mountain licensing in fiscal 2018

Washington (Platts)--16 Mar 2017 517 pm EDT/2117 GMT


President Donald Trump unveiled Thursday a budget proposal for fiscal 2018 Thursday that would provide the US Department of Energy $120 million for the management of utility spent nuclear fuel, including restarting DOE's licensing activities associated with the high-level nuclear waste repository proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The suggested allocation is included in a 62-page "America First" budget blueprint the White House Office of Management of Budget released that calls for a 5.6% reduction in DOE spending in fiscal 2018, which starts October 1. Under the proposal, which outlines budget proposals for major federal agencies, DOE would receive $28 billion.

Related story:Trump unveils US budget plan with cuts to EPA, Energy, Interior

A more detailed spending proposal, complete with budget justification documentation, is expected to be issued in May.

OMB said the $120 million proposed allocation would be used to restart DOE licensing activities for a Yucca Mountain repository and to "initiate a robust interim storage program."

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"These investments would accelerate progress on fulfilling the federal government's obligations to address nuclear waste, enhance national security and reduce further taxpayer burden," the OMB document said.

If licensed and built, a repository at Yucca Mountain, roughly 100 miles from the center of Las Vegas, would be used to dispose of 70,000 mt heavy metal of utility spent fuel now stored at power reactor sites across the US.

Related: Find more content about Trump's administration in our news and analysis feature.

DOE dismantled the Yucca Mountain project in 2010, two years after it submitted a repository license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, saying the state of Nevada's unyielding opposition to the proposed disposal facility made the site unworkable. NRC suspended its review of the application in 2011, but resumed that work under a federal court order with limited carryover funds in 2013, which have since been spent.

The OMB document did not contain any information on the fiscal 2018 budget proposal for NRC.

Lake Barrett, a former head of DOE's civilian nuclear waste program and currently the head of L. Barrett Consulting, said in an email Thursday that the $120 million budget request would be sufficient to restart DOE's licensing activity. "With careful focused management, these additional funds will go a long way toward addressing the Yucca issues in a satisfactory way," he said.

A second nuclear industry official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said in an email that the request would enable DOE to "assemble staff, re-establish the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management program, prepare for licensing defense; and to plan and budget for future years to conclude licensing and begin construction."

Nevada's opposition to the proposed disposal facility, meanwhile, has not waned since the retirement of Harry Reid from the US Senate in January, according to Nevada officials. Reid, a Nevada Democrat and former Senate majority and minority leader, was a leading opponent of the project.

After the project was dismantled in 2010, the state continued to prepare to fight the project in an NRC licensing proceeding.

--Elaine Hiruo, elaine.hiruo@spglobal.com

--Edited by Valarie Jackson, valarie.jackson@spglobal.com

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