Official: Lack of nuclear waste dump is a ‘serious failure of the American government’

“The process has about completely broken down,” Hamilton said, arguing that failed efforts to establish a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain have “damaged our state and federal relationships very sharply.”

The impasse threatens to pass the problems surrounding nuclear waste to future generations, Hamilton said, speaking at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

“We are about ready to hand over to them the problem we created without a proper solution,” he said.

While he took no position on the merits of the Yucca Mountain project, Hamilton warned lawmakers that continuing to fight over the project could further delay efforts to establish a permanent waste dump.

“If you stand around and insist on Yucca, Yucca, Yucca … we think the result of that is an impasse, a failure to solve the problem,” he said. “You could go for another 40 years and not solve the problem.”

Policymakers have been fighting for years over the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which was identified by Congress as the preferred site for the waste in 1987.

Amid intense resistance from Nevada lawmakers — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — the Obama administration abandoned the Yucca Mountain project, infuriating Republicans and others who alleged that the decision was based on politics, not science.

Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu established the commission in 2009, headed by Hamilton and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, to recommend a path forward for nuclear waste.

The commission, which did not evaluate the merits of Yucca Mountain, outlined a series of recommendations in a final report released last week. The report calls on policymakers to move quickly to identify at least one site for the permanent geologic storage of nuclear waste.

The report recommends that policymakers use a “consent-based approach” to determining waste storage and disposal sites. Under that approach, states and communities would be given more input on whether they wish to house a storage facility.

In addition, the commission recommended establishing an independent agency responsible for nuclear waste management. The Energy Department currently oversees waste storage and disposal.

About 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is being stored at 75 nuclear reactors around the country. Experts have long called for a permanent storage site.

Republicans at Wednesday’s hearing blasted Obama for abandoning Yucca Mountain.

“There are possibly no other 230 square miles in the world that have been examined and reexamined more by America’s greatest scientific minds than Yucca Mountain,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

But Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the full committee, called on lawmakers to “move past a narrow obsession with Yucca Mountain.”