Republican senators have introduced a bill that would force the government to start storing nuclear waste at an interim storage site in Nevada by the middle of 2003, seven years before the White House wants. The proposal, which is backed by the US nuclear industry, is likely to be opposed by the US president.

In January 1998, the US Court of Appeal ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) must begin taking commercial nuclear waste. The DOE has been collecting consumer fees since 1982 to fund a spent nuclear fuel store. A report released in late 1998 showed that the Nevada Test Range and Yucca Mountain, Nevada, remained viable sites for storing the waste, which is currently held at 71 nuclear sites around the country.

The government would prefer to leave the waste where it is and concentrate on building a permanent store which could be ready by 2010. The Energy Secretary recently proposed that the Government could take legal possession of the waste, providing financial assistance to the power utilities that currently hold the spent fuel in return for their agreement to continue to store it.

In a parallel move, two Nevada senators have proposed legislation to compensate nuclear utilities for continued storage of spent fuel. They claim that this is the least risk strategy. Nevada politicians are opposed to the above-ground interim store planned for their state. There are estimated to be 27 000 t of nuclear waste at nuclear plants across the USA.

Meanwhile another senator has pledged to introduce legislation that will force a review of federal nuclear waste management policy with the aim of promoting the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, as is carried out in other parts of the world. Reprocessing was eschewed in the USA at the end of the 1970s amid concerns about its nuclear proliferation implications.

Separately, the US DOE won a protracted fight to use a low level waste repository in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The storage facility was built in 1983 at a cost of $2 billion, but environmental objections prevented its use. These were finally overruled by US district judge at the end of March. The New Mexico site is designed to hold defence-related waste from government sites across the USA.