Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election hinges in part on his efforts to stop the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository from being built. But a fellow Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray, could hurt her re-election chances if she can’t show that she’s trying hard enough to get the project restarted.
Although the midterm elections are shaping up nationally to be a referendum on the economy, jobs and President Obama’s record, local concerns in races across the country could end up swaying those contests and, ultimately, control of the Senate.
In Indiana, Republican Dan Coats is trying to make terrorism an issue in the Senate race by accusing his Democratic opponent, Rep. Brad Ellsworth, of voting to close the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In North Carolina, Sen. Richard M. Burr’s voting record on energy policy has been raised. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, meanwhile, is trying to rescue her re-election bid in Arkansas by pushing for more than $1 billion for farmers.
But no other issue is as complicated as Yucca Mountain, which pits Mrs. Murray of Washington, the No. 4 Democrat in the Senate, against the rest of her party’s members. They include Mr. Reid, who, like most other Nevada politicians, is a fierce opponent of the Yucca repository.
“Each year, 5 million pounds of radioactive nuclear waste are disposed of in the U.S. Sharron Angle wants to bring all 5 million pounds here for reprocessing in Nevada,” the ad announcer intones.
Mrs. Angle has said that she is open to having Nevada accept nuclear waste, but her campaign also points to a bill she sponsored in the state Assembly urging the federal government to forgo Yucca Mountain as a waste site.
“She is a legislator who listens to the voters,” said spokesman Jerry Stacy. “By contrast, Sen. Harry Reid has not listened to the people of Nevada, whether you’re talking about Obamacare, cap and trade, or trillions in deficits.”
The issue plays differently 1,000 miles away. Mrs. Murray and her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, are pushing to get the Yucca site up and running so it can take waste from the Hanford Site, a partially decommissioned nuclear plant on the Columbia River in central Washington.
Hanford has been called the nation’s most toxic radioactive site, but it wasn’t until this year that the issue became a political liability for Mrs. Murray. Mr. Rossi began to argue that the incumbent senator hadn’t done enough to promote the Yucca alternative.
Mrs. Murray faced pointed questions Friday from the Seattle Times about why she voted to confirm Nuclear Regulatory Commission members who oppose the Yucca project, and she said she didn’t have any opportunity to cast a specific vote.
“It wasn’t a vote up or down; they went through like many nominations do,” she said.
She said she has voted “consistently” in favor of pursuing Yucca Mountain, “despite my own party leadership and despite the current president.”
Just before senators adjourned for their summer recess, Mrs. Murray introduced an amendment in committee to a spending bill that would have restarted funding for the Yucca repository.
Her fellow Democrats defeated her amendment, leaving Mr. Rossi to argue she’s too beholden to her own party and Mr. Reid to look out for her state’s interests. He said that explains why she didn’t object to allowing the confirmations of the three Nuclear Regulatory Commission members.View Entire Story
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