Murkowski presses Obama official on late nuclear waste plan

When Murkowski asked Lyons to clarify whether a plan would be ready in a month, six months or a year, Lyons said he did not have enough specifics to comment.

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The topic of nuclear waste became more highly politicized when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), under former chairman Gregory Jaczko, stopped reviews of the Yucca Mountain disposal site in Nevada.

The NRC said it lacked the money to continue reviewing the site. Republicans, however, charged that shutting Yucca down was a political decision led by the administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

A bill discussed at Wednesday’s hearing recalled that dispute.

The bill (S. 3469), introduced by committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), largely adopts the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations.

It would encourage moving nuclear waste currently stored at nuclear reactors to consolidated interim sites until Congress approves a long-term repository. It also would open up more potential permanent repository sites for consideration beyond Yucca.

But Murkowski said the bill would prohibit interim storage until the NRC receives a formal application for a permanent site. That could get the process ensnarled in legal and political battles much like Yucca, she said.

Bingaman said such a provision was necessary to ensure interim sites do not become de facto permanent sites.

That contention is what will prevent the bill from going forward this year, Bingaman and Murkowski said, adding they largely agreed on many of the bill’s other provisions.

Bingaman, who is retiring after this session, said he called the hearing to set the table for negotiations next Congress.

Murkowski, who would be in line to lead the committee if Republicans take the Senate in the Nov. 6 election, said she wants to discuss nuclear waste more frequently.