- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved President Bush's designation of the Yucca Mountain repository site to store the nation's nuclear waste.
By a 306-117 vote, the House overturned Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the designation, which now goes to the Senate for final approval.
Congress gave Nevada an unprecedented veto right over the president in its 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, but the act directed Congress to make the final decision. The 15-year Yucca Mountain project, which has cost $7 billion to date, would be killed if the Senate upholds Mr. Guinn's veto in a resolution or does nothing.
The Nevada delegation, supported mostly by Democrats, argued against the site, saying the facility and cross-country transportation were too risky. Republicans, supported by 102 Democrats, said the site has been deemed scientifically sound and that transportation risks are exaggerated.
"The Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility has been tested and tested and tested again," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
"Each and every time the results are the same: We should proceed with this scientifically proven safe, single-storage facility for spent nuclear fuel beneath the desert, as opposed to the current hodgepodge of 'temporary' storage sites at over 130 sites scattered across the country," Mr. Hastert said.
The Democrats' argument that transportation is risky is "ridiculous," Mr. Hastert said.
"With all the safety precautions and oversight already in place, let alone what's to come, the fact is nuclear waste has been shipped for years cross-country with never a problem," Mr. Hastert said.
Voting for the measure were 203 Republicans, 102 Democrats and one independent. Voting against were 103 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and one independent.
Democrats also argued that terrorists would target trains carrying the waste for derailment, threatening the health and safety of communities along the route.
Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader, said each truckload of nuclear waste has 240 times the radioactivity of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
"This is not a problem for Nevada, but a problem for our country," Mr. Reid said.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, called the disposal plan a "thermonuclear Ponzi game," referring to the financial pyramid scheme.
"We're passing on the risks to the next generation. We're getting it off our hands right now," Mr. Markey said.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, said opposition to the storage site is coming from members of Congress who are opposed to nuclear energy. Finding a solution to the storage problem removes their argument against expanding nuclear energy, he said.
"They would like us to get [energy] from the sun and wind, provided we don't hurt any birds," Mr. Tauzin said.
However, Senate Republican aides say they expect the storage measure to pass in the Senate when it comes up in July, and a leadership aide acknowledged the Democrats have yet to secure enough votes to block it.
Supporters are being extra cautious to follow congressional procedures to the letter, knowing one misstep will land the issue in the court system after being passed by Congress and signed by the president.
"It's an uphill battle; we realize that," Mr. Reid said.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said there is "no perfect solution," but that money should be spent instead to make permanent storage sites of the 131 areas throughout the country where the waste is currently being stored.
But Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat, said that arrangement would pose an even greater threat to the environment and national security.
"A vote for this resolution is a vote to protect our nation from terrorist attacks. Let us wipe clean the terrorist shooting gallery of 131 sites scattered throughout this country," said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican.
The Energy Department plans to use Yucca Mountain for the disposal of 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel now stored at plants throughout the United States.
"Politics should not trump science," Mr. Markey said. "One hundred-seventeen wise people took the correct position today."
Added Mr. Gephardt: "We are going to do everything we can to derail this ill-thought-out proposal."


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