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Dallas firm’s proposal would send nation’s high-level nuclear waste to West Texas via The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON–Environmentalists and nuclear power industry advocates have squared off for a quarter century over a proposal to bury the nation’s most highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel deep under the Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Now, a Dallas-based company wants to sidestep that long-stalled debate and welcome thousands of metric tons of the material to its sprawling site in West Texas.

For the first since notifying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its plans on Friday, Waste Control Specialists executives commented on the ambitious, and unprecedented, proposal at National Press Club on Monday.

CEO William J. Lindquist said the company will formally request a permit for the site from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year. If the idea can win the approval the company expects from federal agencies and, potentially, secure the clarifying legislation it may need, the spent fuel could be arriving at the facility by 2020.

That may seem like a slow process, but the controversial question of what to do with the nation’s ever-growing stockpile of spent nuclear fuel has bedeviled the federal government for decades. Some 70,000 tons of spent fuel is currently stored on-site at nuclear power plants around the country.

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One of the largest sticking points in the plan to transport the fuel to Yucca Mountain has been worries by environmentalists and others that sending so much of the spent fuel by rail is dangerous. That concern would be brought straight to Texas’ doorstep if the new proposal is approved.

But the spokesman for the NEI noted that smaller shipments of nuclear waste are already shipped around the country, as are many other highly dangerous chemicals. Protocols for moving nuclear waste are far more stringent than gasoline tankers, for instance.

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The bigger obstacle will likely be in Washington. The NRC will control the permitting process, but it is the U.S. Department of Energy that would ultimately be the company’s customer. That agency is charged by Congress to dispose of the spent fuel, and it’s the agency that will write the checks.

Current law gives it authority to spend those funds to send the spent fuel to a permanent facility, such as the stalled Yucca Mountain site. No other permanent facility exists or is planned.

Lindquist said the company will be seeking clarification in the coming months as to whether the DOE can use its authority to remove the waste to send it to an interim facility or if it would need new authorization from Congress.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for energy, told nuclear industry executives last week that he’s committed to reviving the debate over Yucca Mountain and resolving the question of what America should do with its rising mounts of spent nuclear fuel.

He and Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who leads the House Science Committee, have both called for increased nuclear power production in the U.S. since the Republican victories in November’s elections.

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