The Energy Department’s embrace of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation’s future nuclear-waste dump is being hailed as a breakthrough by the nuclear industry and its supporters.
But it will be far from the last word, even if President Bush, as expected, gives the project the green light.
The next real battleground likely will be the Congress, where the Nevada congressional delegation vows to continue its fight.
The Nevadans are expected to get help from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who called the endorsement of Yucca Mountain “unfortunate and premature.” South Dakota, like Nevada, has no nuclear-power plants.
But Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, acknowledged in an interview that “it’s going to be a tough deal” to overturn Mr. Bush if he goes along with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who said Thursday he was recommending Yucca Mountain.
“Nothing has been easy on this thing,” said Mr. Reid, who is No. 2 in the Senate leadership and has fought against the Yucca Mountain recommendation for years.
He hopes that he will be able to sway senators to Nevada’s side by emphasizing that approval of Yucca Mountain will mean thousands of shipments across 45 states and over interstate highways and rail lines through urban centers like Chicago and St. Louis.
“This is about more than Nevada,” he insists.
Mr. Abraham said he would tell Mr. Bush that the Yucca Mountain site approximately 100 miles from the glitter and lights of Las Vegas is a “scientifically sound and suitable” place to bury 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.
The government has spent the past dozen years studying Yucca Mountain, which is adjacent to the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear bombs were detonated during the Cold War.
So far, the studies have cost more than $6.8 billion.
But thanks to a law passed 20 years ago, Nevada’s chances to bar the waste shipments may not yet be dead.
The law allows Nevada to veto the president, although in turn Congress may override the state’s objection and let the project proceed anyway.