updated 11/8/2005 1:49:43 PM ET 2005-11-08T18:49:43

Lawmakers agreed Monday to cut 2006 spending for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump well below past-year levels and President Bush’s budget request, reflecting the faltering prospects for the project in the Nevada desert.

They also ditched a House plan to supplement Yucca with interim storage sites for nuclear waste, settling instead on spending $50 million to promote recycling spent nuclear fuel.

House and Senate negotiators finished work on a $30.5 billion bill to fund energy and water projects.

They agreed to spend $450 million in 2006 on Yucca Mountain, the planned underground repository for 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive nuclear waste.

The project’s budget was $577 million in each of the past two years, and Bush asked for $650 million for the dump in his 2006 budget request.

The final figure was also less than the House and the Senate agreed to separately earlier in the year, but lawmakers and aides said delays on the project kept the number low.

“No matter what side of Yucca you’re on, the truth of the matter is Yucca is ... not on the schedule that even was predicted the last time. It’s behind schedule,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s energy and water subcommittee, told reporters.

“We think that this will keep what should be done on schedule,” he said.

Two years ago, the Energy Department projected needing $1.2 billion for Yucca Mountain in 2006. That was when officials were hoping to quickly submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and open the dump by 2010.

Since then, a series of setbacks — including a required rewrite of radiation safety standards for the dump — have slowed the project.

Now it’s not clear when the license application will be submitted, and the projected opening date has slipped to 2012, at the earliest.

“While this funding decision may force us to go at a slower pace, it will not deter us from our principles of using sound science to develop a high-quality license application and a disposal facility that is safe and reliable to operate,” said Energy Department spokesman Craig Stevens.

Lawmakers deleted a House proposal to spend $10 million for the Energy Department to produce a plan for temporary aboveground storage for spent reactor fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.

Instead the bill contains $50 million for spent fuel recycling, including $20 million for states or localities to compete to host a recycling facility and $30 million for research and other work.

The bill, expected to be approved later this week by the full House and Senate, also spends $220 million to build a plant at the federal Savannah River complex in South Carolina where weapons-grade plutonium would be processed into a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel — a less dangerous fuel for commercial power reactors. That figure is $118 million lower than Bush’s request.

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