- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

President Bush yesterday recommended the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as the nation's first repository for high-level radioactive waste.
Homeland and national security considerations make storing the tons of waste in one facility necessary, Mr. Bush said. The nuclear waste currently is stored in temporary locations at 131 sites in 39 states.
"This recommendation is the culmination of two decades of intense scientific and technical disciplines necessary and appropriate for this challenging undertaking," Mr. Bush said in his official announcement to Congress.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, criticized Mr. Bush's decision and said there is not enough scientific knowledge to reach a conclusion about the safety of transporting and storing the waste.
Mr. Gephardt said the decision was based on politics and corporate energy interests and that he will work with Senate Democrat leaders to overturn it in Congress.
"I am deeply disappointed by the administration's decision on Yucca Mountain," Mr. Gephardt said. "The people of Nevada deserve a more thorough process of investigation and review before making a determination that could have a tremendous adverse impact on their lives."
Mr. Bush said he is confident of the 20 years of scientific research, which has cost taxpayers $4 billion, that has concluded Yucca Mountain is a safe site. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham made the recommendation to Mr. Bush late Thursday and said the scientific data is sound.
"I urge the Congress to undertake any necessary legislative action on this recommendation in an expedited and bipartisan fashion," Mr. Bush said.
Congress will need a majority vote by both houses to uphold the decision.
Nevada's Republican governor, Kenny Guinn, said he was outraged. Within hours, Nevada filed suit in federal court arguing the way the Energy Department came to its conclusions in recommending the site violated a 1982 nuclear waste law. The suit had been expected.
Nuclear power produces 20 percent of the nation's energy, and 40 percent of the Navy's fleet depends on nuclear power, a White House spokesman said. Mr. Bush's decision marks a major step in the decades-long dispute over what to do with the waste generated by commercial nuclear power plants and by the government nuclear weapons program.
Yucca Mountain is located on federal land in an isolated area 100 miles from Las Vegas, and the storage facility is 1,000 feet underground.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, called the announcement a wise decision and has pledged to quickly move the measure through the House. "After two decades of study, we know this remote location beneath the Nevada desert is a safe, secure and viable site and should be completed without further delay," Mr. Hastert said.
"In these times, Americans deserve the peace of mind that spent nuclear fuel will be consolidated into one secure location, rather than scattered across the country in over 130 various sites," Mr. Hastert said.
More than 161 million people live within 75 miles of the current locations designed to be temporary storage containers. The temporary sites should be able to withstand current terrorist threats, but that may not be the case in the future, Mr. Abraham said.
"These materials would be far better secured in a deep underground repository at Yucca Mountain," Mr. Abraham said.
Nevada has 60 days to submit a notice of disapproval to Congress, where supporters and opponents are lining up for battle. Filibusters are prohibited, and lawmakers have a 90-day legislative clock to pass the measure.
"That is where the game will be played," said John Sununu, co-chairman of the Yucca Mountain Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This is the right national policy, and this is the right time," said Mr. Sununu, who is a former governor of New Hampshire and White House chief of staff to former President George Bush.
The proposal also faces legal challenges from Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, and Sen. Harry Reid, Democrat and assistant majority leader.
Mr. Reid declined to comment this week on their legislative strategy. But the state of Nevada has hired former Senate Parliamentarian Robert B. Dove as its consultant.
Mr. Dove is a 35-year veteran of Capitol Hill and was appointed to the parliamentarian post in 1981. He was fired last year by then-Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, reportedly for inconsistencies in his rulings during the budget battle.
Mr. Dove said he was hired by Mr. Guinn for his parliamentarian savvy to defeat the measure when it reaches the Senate.
"One of the things about the Senate, which I gathered from 35 years of working there, is it is always easier to play defense than offense. There are so many ways to stop things," Mr. Dove said.
Mr. Dove would not discuss the advice he is giving his clients, including whether to play out the legislative clock, which is expected to be limited during this election year.
With Mr. Dove leading the opposition, Mr. Sununu predicts the strategy to block the measure will be to find an "arcane technical procedure to thwart the intent of the original legislation."
The Yucca Mountain issue will most likely be turned into a "political football" that will be won or lost on a technicality, Mr. Sununu said.
Congress required a deep underground repository to store radioactive waste in the 1982 passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The energy secretary was directed by Congress in 1987 to investigate and recommend to the president whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe site.
Bill Sammon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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