- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Congress yesterday gave its final approval to designate Yucca Mountain as the nation's first nuclear repository site, ending two decades of debate and $7 billion in studies.

The Senate approved the measure 60 to 39, barely enough to override Nevada Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto under the provisions of a 1982 federal law.

The plan sets out to store more than 77,000 tons of high-level waste from across the country in the desert mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Voting for the measure were 15 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Voting "no" were 35 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent.

On May 8, the House passed the measure 306-117.

"We cannot afford the current shotgun approach of storing waste at sites scattered across the country," said Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican and a leading supporter of the measure.

"It's not a solution; it is simply a symptom of the delays associated with opening Yucca Mountain. Now more than ever, we need a safe, central, secure facility for our nation's nuclear waste. Now more than ever, we need Yucca Mountain," Mr. Murkowski said.

The Bush administration set the process in motion Feb. 15 by endorsing the plan, under review since a 1982 congressional mandate.

Under procedures set by Congress, the Nevada governor received the right to veto the administration's decision, but Congress was given a 90-day period to uphold or override that veto.

The plan will now undergo a rigorous licensing procedure to work out final transportation and storage details.

Debate against the Yucca Mountain site focused mostly on congressional procedure, and opponents are expected to block the matter in court, saying procedural maneuvers were incorrectly followed on the Senate floor.

"We will prevail today, or we will prevail in the courts," said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican and a leading opponent of the plan.

Both Mr. Ensign and fellow Nevadan Harry Reid, the Democratic whip, said they opposed nuclear storage in their state because of health and safety risks and because they feared that terrorists might try to hijack the tons of waste that will be transported from the 39 states where they are temporarily stored.

"Transporting tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste across the country wasn't a good idea before September 11, and it's certainly not a good idea now," Mr. Ensign said.

"We had never thought of a fully fueled passenger plane as a weapon; let's not make the same mistake with the trucks, trains and barges that will be transporting nuclear waste," Mr. Ensign said.

That the shipping and storage of nuclear waste is safe is "one big lie after one big lie," Mr. Reid said.

He added, "Mobile Chernobyl will be all over America," a reference to the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has vowed that a transportation plan will be in place by the end of next year and has said comprehensive safety requirements will provide an "effective first line of defense" against terrorist threats.

But opponents said continued storage on site in temporary containers is preferable to transporting the waste and storing it in Nevada.

"It's safer than hauling the stuff past our homes and schools," Mr. Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said that his state was under consideration as a site and that he sympathized with the Nevada delegation.

"I know how hard it is to explain to people this can be done in a safe and responsible way, but we have to deal with it. And if we don't take this action if we don't deal with it then we're going to have to shut down this source of energy in the country, slowly but surely," Mr. Lott said.

Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican, said Congress never intended for the waste to be temporarily stored at 130 different facilities and that extensive studies and precautions have been taken.

"We have bent over backwards to do all the science and studies necessary, and our best scientists say nuclear waste can be stored safely at Yucca Mountain," Mr. Crapo said.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said he supported storage at the Yucca Mountain site but voted against it, saying there are legitimate concerns over transportation and safety issues.

"I have agonized with this vote as much as any in my memory," Mr. Carper said.

Republicans had expected the vote to be close, and Vice President Richard B. Cheney was on standby in case he needed to be rushed to the Capitol to break a tie.

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