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Some governors want Congress to reject plan to move spent fuel to regional sites

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WASHINGTON — Congress should reject a pending plan to move nuclear waste to federal temporary storage sites across the country, the governors of Northeastern states have told senators.

The Senate energy and water spending bill contains a provision to move nuclear waste to regional or state temporary storage sites until the permanent federal repository opens at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Neither Utah nor Nevada not be home to one of these sites, according to the bill.

But Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, who heads the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, and Vermont Gov. James Douglas, the coalition's lead governor for energy, sent a letter to the Senate Aug. 2 saying no state should be home to a temporary site and that the government's focus should remain on Yucca.

They strongly oppose the pending plan because it would "suddenly shift long-established national policy on nuclear waste disposal by requiring commercial spent fuel to be stored at local or regional federal consolidation storage facilities in up to 31 states across the nation," according to the letter.

The governors are worried that if Congress approved this new plan, it would divert attention — and money — away from the Yucca project, causing more delays than it has already experienced. The site was supposed to open in 1998, but the Energy Department now has a 2017 opening date at the earliest.

"It is vital that progress continue toward a permanent solution to the management of commercial spent nuclear fuel," according to the letter. "Creating federal consolidated nuclear waste sites in a location that would never be chosen for such purpose in a site selection process — while further delaying the creation of a nuclear waste repository — is unacceptable."

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., inserted the provision into the bill because the Yucca project is so far behind schedule.

At a hearing last week Domenici said Yucca's delays are forcing him to look at interim options because waste inventories will just continue to increase at plants around the country. The government also faces liability because it breached its contract by not taking the waste as promised in 1998.

The House already passed an energy and water bill which contains an interim storage option, but it is different from the Senate bill.

Congress is on its August recess and cannot take up the bill until it gets back in September, but an exact schedule of when it would be taken up is not known.

If approved, the bill would prohibit the government from using federal money to move waste to Private Fuel Storage, the private nuclear waste site in Tooele County, but it would not bar nuclear utilities from paying to move waste there on their own. PFS is a private consortium now looking for customer to help with its construction but it has sought out government funds from the Energy Department in the past.

The department has repeatedly said that PFS is not part of its nuclear waste management plan.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com