Nuclear Waste

Because of high energy costs, nuclear power is back in the news. But leaders in Congress are increasingly concerned about how to deal with the radioactive waste created during the process of makingnuclear power. Laura Strickler reports from Capitol Hill.

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Despite the growing faith of local and state officials in the safety of nuclear power - and plans to build 14 new nuclear plants -no one wants the waste. The Department of Energy says Yucca Mountain won't open for another 9 to 14 years. That means more nuclear waste will stay where it's made in places like the South Texas Nuclear Project in Wadsworth. Meanwhile Nevada lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are still trying to stop the repository at Yucca Mountain.

"I am opposed to transporting nuclear waste. I think it's the most dangerous substance known to man, and I don't think we should transport it on our highways and railways to Nevada or Utah or any place else. It should stay where it is."

Every 18 months, 64 bundles of spent fuel rods move from the reactors at the South Texas Project into onsite storage. Regardless of the waste problem, the nuclear energy industry has been promoting the cleanliness of nuclear power. And they're heavy political donors to Republican interests in Washington. But companies with nuclear plants also contribute to Democrats who serve on the House Energy Committee such as Houston Congressman Gene Green. In the last seven years, Green received $10,500 from Duke Energy.

"I don't really know if they contributed at all to our campaign. We do our reports and I don't make votes based on that."

Green says regardless of contributions, he supports nuclear energy because it's cleaner than coal or oil.

"But I do think we need to explore using alternatives like recycling these rods. If it's worked in other countries, maybe we can learn from that."

But John Parkyn, CEO of a consortium of private nuclear companies says recycling is still a long way off and other analysts agree.

"We could start reprocessing in a somewhat short period of time, but construction, licensing and building would cost quite a bit of money and would take many many years."

In January, President Bush said he wanted $250 million for new nuclear recycling technology- but so far, Congress has only approved $120 million. Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul supports nuclear power, but says the nuclear industry should solve its own waste problems -without help from the government.

"If the market deals with it, they will tell you how dangerous it is....I don't worry that much about it. If they had the full liability and responsibility, they have to be safe or they're not going to be in business...they're going to be out of business."

But the Energy Policy Bill passed by Congress last year included the renewal of a provision known as Price-Anderson. It protects the industry by capping liability in case of an accident. Either way, most experts agree that until there is a waste solution, it's unlikely new nuclear power plants will break ground. And in the meantime, nuclear waste will continue to be stored in South Texas. For Houston Public Radio, I'm Laura Strickler in Washington.

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