US energy secretary Samuel Bodman has sent a legislative proposal to the Congress that includes a comprehensive set of provisions that will facilitate licensing and construction of the geologic repository at Yucca Mountain.

Among other things, the proposed legislation would withdraw permanently from public use the land at and surrounding the Yucca Mountain repository site in Nevada, a measure needed to meet a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing requirement. The legislation would also facilitate Congressí ability to provide adequate funding for the project, with reform necessary to correct a technical budgetary problem that has acted as a disincentive to adequate funding.

The proposed bill would also eliminate the current statutory 70,000 tonne cap on disposal capacity at Yucca Mountain, and includes provisions for a more streamlined NRC licensing process, and for initiation of infrastructure activities, including safety and other upgrades and rail line construction, to enable earlier start-up of operations. Other provisions are designed to consolidate duplicative environmental review.

The news followed the selection of Oak Ridge Associated Universities/Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education to provide independent expert reviews of scientific and technical work on the Yucca Mountain Project as part of a $3 million contract for the rest of 2006. At least another $3 million in funding is available in 2007, the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) announced.

“By bringing in Oak Ridge for independent reviews to assess our technical work, we ensure the highest level of expertise and credibility as we move the project forward,” OCRWMís acting director Paul Golan said.

Currently, more than 50,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel are stored at more than 100 above-ground sites in 39 states.