The nation is reaching the end of the beginning of the process for selecting a permanent site for storing its nuclear waste, Barton said, with the Bush administration's formal submission of Yucca Mountain.
"The governor of Nevada has exercised his right under the law and vetoed the site selection," Barton told a news conference. "(Following a hearing this Thursday,) I intend to move an override bill very quickly, probably next week. (The bill) could come onto the floor of the House for an override vote at the end of this month or in early May."
Barton's goal is to get at least 300 votes for the bill, but the process will not be completed until the Senate votes on its override legislation. If Congress passes both bills, the licensing and construction phases of the project would take about a decade, said Angie Howard, executive vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for the nuclear power industry.
Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., said approving the site should be a "no-brainer," especially in light of the billions of dollars electric utility ratepayers have contributed to a nuclear waste fund for the site.
Having waste consolidated at one site also would lessen chances of an environmental incident at the nation's nuclear plants, Berry said. For instance, material released from a site on the Arkansas River could contaminate the lower Mississippi River Valley for the foreseeable future, Berry said.
Norris McDonald, president of the African-American Environmentalist Association, said maintaining nuclear power's viability actually will help global ecology.
"I know I'll get attacked for saying this, but look at the logic," McDonald said.
Fossil-fuel use has contributed to greenhouse gases, which many scientists feel is responsible for global warming. That phenomenon has markedly contributed to unhealthy urban atmospheric conditions and even an increase in airborne allergens, McDonald said, a particular point of concern for asthmatics, such as himself. Continued and increased use of emissions-free nuclear power could help alleviate these conditions, he said.
Representatives of senior organizations also spoke in support of Yucca. Jim Martin, president of the 60 Plus Association, said inexpensive electricity from nuclear power is vital for seniors living on fixed incomes; a storage site is needed to help keep nuclear plants running, he said.
Don Wainwright, chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers, said nuclear power will remain an important contributor to the nation's energy supply, so a clear plan for storing waste is necessary.
"We've got to ask ourselves whether our nuclear waste will be safer in a Fort-Knox-like structure or scattered in more than 130 lesser facilities across the country," Wainwright said.
Barton and others agreed new spent fuel would remain at nuclear plants for several years until it cools enough for transport, but that doesn't lessen the need for a site to hold the several decades' worth of such waste that already exists.
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