Energy Department revises cost estimate for Yucca Mountain project

The Energy Department Tuesday put the cost of a long-standing plan to build a controversial nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada at more than $90 billion.

The figure is the first official estimate of the controversial project since 2001 when the cost of storing nuclear waste on the site was estimated at $58 billion.

And it includes about $9 billion already spent and covers about 100 years of operation at the site.

Ward Sproat, the Energy Department official in charge of Yucca Mountain, disclosed the new figure after a House subcommittee hearing on the site.

Sproat expected the exact figure and cost breakdowns will be given to Congress in the next few weeks.

Sproat told the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee funding for Yucca Mountain was inadequate. Assuming Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval, "the (Energy) Department could be ready to begin accepting spent nuclear fuel by 2020, but only if adequate funding is provided," he said.

Sproat estimated between $1.2 billion and $1.9 billion is needed for construction and operation, far below present appropriations.

Sproat called for a reform of the Nuclear Waste Fund, which has a balance of about $21 billion generated over the years by fees on electricity rate payers. Of the $750 million that goes into the fund annually, most goes into the Treasury for other purposes. He said the fund should be dedicated strictly for nuclear waste, which is what Congress originally intended.

Sprout said substantial progress has been made in restructuring Yucca Mountain program management, and major milestones have been met. These include submission last month of the license application for design and construction to the NRC. The commission has 90 days to review the application to determine whether it meets regulatory requirements.

If it passes muster, the NRC has up to four years for its formal license review for safety, design and construction.

"Nevada families are overwhelmingly opposed to our home state becoming this nation's nuclear garbage dump," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a witness before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. "Over the past 25 years, we have been fighting Yucca Mountain, Republicans and Democrats alike, for one simple reason: It's not safe."

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