Yucca vote moves to full Senate

By SCOTT R. BURNELL, UPI Science News  |  June 5, 2002 at 2:16 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- In a surprisingly close vote, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Wednesday a resolution overriding Nevada's objections to the proposed nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain, setting up the final vote in the next few weeks.

The 13-10 tally ran primarily along party lines, with Colorado's Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell the only Republican voting against the site. Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., broke from their party in approving the measure.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was pointed in her opposition to what she called a less than complete proposal. Cantwell's position hinged not only on doubts about the science behind Yucca, but on her crusade to clean up the Hanford nuclear reservation in her state.

"It's critically important for the state of Washington that we have a comprehensive solution that will take more than 13 percent of Hanford's waste," Cantwell said.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, told Cantwell and the committee the scientific issues would have to be resolved before the site could be licensed. Craig also called on his colleagues to vote objectively, a veiled reference to efforts by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to garner votes with personal pleas.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said his struggle to come to a decision on the matter led to a sleepless night, as he balanced his advocacy for nuclear power against a desire to fairly treat fellow senators, including Reid, who came to Capitol Hill the same year as Carper.

"I'm not as smart as Solomon. If I were, I could figure out better how to cut this baby," Carper said. "This resolution won't be discharged today with my vote ... this resolution won't be defeated on the Senate floor because of my vote."

Committee staffers said the timeline for dealing with the resolution would have the committee reporting the measure to the full Senate no later than June 17. For the Department of Energy to submit a Yucca licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Senate must approve the resolution and President Bush must sign it before July 25.

Despite losing battle after battle on Capitol Hill, Nevada officials have made plain their intention to carry the war into the legal arena. At least two lawsuits have been filed to contest Department of Energy's site characterization process and the provisions of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which set up the legislative path for Congress to veto the state's objections.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved S. 1768, a bill permitting the Department of the Interior to implement the Calfed Bay-Delta program, which deals with water usage in the Southwest, including California. The bill authorizes $1.6 billion for the initial federal costs in the projected 30-year program of dam expansion, ecology monitoring and related issues. The committee also voted to recommend the full Senate confirm the nomination of Guy Caruso to be administrator of the DOE's energy information administration.

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