updated 10/4/2007 3:15:28 PM ET 2007-10-04T19:15:28

The proposed nuclear-waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will need up to three times its current funding or the program's 2017 opening date will have to be delayed, a top Energy Department official said Thursday.

"Based on our recently completed program schedule and cost estimate, annual funding will be needed at levels two to three times the current appropriations" starting next year, Edward  Sproat III, director of the agency's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management said in prepared testimony before the House Budget Committee.

A total life cycle cost estimate for the program conducted in 2001 was $57.5 billion in 2000 dollars, which included costs already incurred. A revised cost estimate is expected by the end of this year and will include the costs for accepting about 30 percent more spent nuclear fuel through the repository's closing in 2133, Sproat said.

"If the requested fixes to the funding process are not put into place, DOE will not be able to set a credible opening date for the repository and government liability will continue to grow," he said.

Yucca Mountain was designated in the 1980s as the country's nuclear waste repository and the Energy Department was required to open the Nevada site by 1998. But the project has been bogged down by lawsuits and other controversy, and the earliest possible opening date is 2017.

The program has spent $11 billion in 2000 constant dollars since 1983, Sproat said.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims last week awarded Xcel Energy Inc. $116.5 million over the government's failure to open Yucca Mountain on time. Northern States Power Co., a predecessor to Xcel Energy, sued the Energy Department, claiming breach of contract.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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