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Nuclear waste dogs US energy policy

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For Senate majority leader Harry Reid – who battled the Yucca Mountain project against long odds from his first year in the Senate, and who is up for reelection next year – it's a career victory.

"It was very easy working with the Obama administration to bring about these cuts," he said. "In the future, people will say that President Obama kept his promise to the people of Nevada."

"It's a vote of no confidence for a plan and a process that has been flawed from the beginning," says Anna Aurillo, director of the Washington office of Environment America.

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act gave Washington responsibility for setting up a permanent, high-level nuclear waste repository. Eight proposed sites were narrowed to three, then to one.

Over the strong objections of Nevada's congressional delegation – and controversy over flawed studies – Congress voted in 1987 to approve Yucca Mountain as the sole candidate for a permanent nuclear waste repository. In 2002, President Bush designated Yucca Mountain as the site, and in June 2008, the Department of Energy submitted its license application to the NRC.

Since 1994, ratepayers have contributed $10.8 billion to help pay for it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group. Moreover, nuclear provides most of the nation's carbon-free electricity generation, company officials say.

"We have 104 reactors in 31 states providing one-fifth of the nation's electricity generation overall," says Steve Kerekes, an NEI spokesman. "When you look at carbon-free electricity generation – hydroelectric power plants, wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear – of those sources, nearly 75 percent comes from nuclear power plants. We are far and away the leading source of carbon-free generation."

The decision to abandon Yucca Mountain leaves the administration and the Congress with big questions to resolve.

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