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Senate OKs Yucca Mountain nuclear site

Bush plan: 77,000 tons of waste beneath mountain


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Tuesday rejected Nevada's attempt to block construction of a permanent storage site for highly radioactive nuclear waste from power plants at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

By a vote of 60 to 39, senators voted to override Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the Energy Department's decision to move ahead with the underground storage facility, which is projected to cost $58 billion and could begin receiving nuclear waste from across the country by 2010.

The House voted to override Guinn's veto in May. With congressional hurdles now out of the way, the DOE's next step will be to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a permit to begin construction, a process that could take several years.

Nevada's congressional delegation has vigorously fought the proposal, questioning the safety of building a waste dump at the Yucca Mountain site. Opponents also argued that shipments of waste to the site from across the country would put millions of Americans in jeopardy and provide tempting targets for terrorists.

"We're talking about transporting roughly 70,000 metric tons of deadly waste from nuclear facilities in 39 states across our nation's highways, railways and waterways to Yucca Mountain," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota.

"By shipping nuclear waste on trucks and trains and barges, we may very well be creating hundreds, even thousands, of rolling dirty bombs. What sense does that make?"

Sen. John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, also complained that building the disposal facility would cost too much money and that other possible sites in Washington state and Texas weren't fully considered.

"This is really Washington power politics," he said. "This thing is a boondoggle, and we don't need to do it."

He said it would cost only $4 billion to $5 billion to permanently store the spent nuclear fuel and other high-level waste on site at the nation's 103 power plants, where it is currently temporarily stored.

But proponents argued that it would be safer to keep the waste in a single repository than at more than 100 temporary sites, and they also noted that the Yucca Mountain site has been studied for more than two decades.

"There are not going to be any dangers with this. This is a part of a very long, thoughtful process based on science," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi. "This is something we must do. Nuclear power is an important part of our overall energy needs here in this country."

Sen. Frank Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said that if the Senate failed to act, the process of selecting a national nuclear waste repository would have to start all over again. He also noted that the federal government is already legally contracted to accept the waste from power plants and dispose of it.

"We'd be derelict to walk away from the obligations we have today," he said.

Proponents also said that concerns about shipping waste to Yucca Mountain, as well as the safety of the site itself, could still be addressed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will extensively study the Department of Energy's plans during the permitting process.


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