Congress continues search for nuclear waste dump

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- More than 70,000 tons of nuclear waste has no place to go. Congress agreed to take care of it decades ago, but lawmakers can't agree on where to send it.

Congress has yet to find a permanent repository for the country's nuclear waste (Source: Gray DC)

Waste from 42 years of operation at Yankee Nuclear in Vermont remains on-site years after the shuttered plant stopped generating power. For now, it's being held in large, thick cannisters known as dry casks.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) said that's a direct result of Congress failing to fulfill its promise to create a national dump for used fuel. "Every place where we have a nuclear plant including Vermont has in effect become a long-term storage plant," he said, "that's not viable."

The government developed Nevada's Yucca Mountain to be the repository for the country's spent fuel, planning to bury it deep underground and within thick barriers designed to be impenetrable. President Donald Trump is trying to revive that plan.

Welch would like to see Yucca Mountain used as a permanent site - though he said political opposition in the state may make that impossible -- and is working on a bill to move forward with a temporary site in Texas.

"Bottom line: after spending 15 billion dollars on Yucca, I think that is a bad place to be permanently storing the nuclear waste in this country," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sanders said he's concerned by the potential for earthquakes at the site given geological fault lines in the area. He opposes further expansion of nuclear - especially while the search for a permanent repository continues. Like many of his fellow Senators seeking the democratic nomination - Sanders signed onto a bill allowing a state like Nevada to say 'no' to storing nuclear waste in its backyard.

"We need to find a permanent solution which is not going to be Yucca," Sanders said.

"The science says it's safe, but we've got to make sure it's correct and let Nevada have its day in court," said Baker Elmore, Senior Director of Federal Programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

He argues the best path forward is to create temporary storage sites, and finalize plans for a permanent repository as soon as possible. After decades of waiting, Elmore says the country appears to be getting closer to signing-off on a plan. "I'm excited because we're finally getting around to having a meaningful conversation on this issue," he said.

Until Congress does come up with a plan, it will continue paying nuclear companies millions to hold onto the waste.

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