Yucca plan passes Senate; transportation legislation to come

| 7/11/2002

Despite objections from Nevada officials, the Senate by a 60 to 39 margin approved a plan to haul by truck and rail and then store much of the nation's nuclear waste beneath Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

The Bush administration says the $58 billion project is "scientifically sound and suitable" and helps protect against terrorist attacks by consolidating the radioactive waste underground.

However, several senators were concerned about risks to their states as trucks and trains carry the radioactive waste. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) said there was no detailed plan on how the waste would be transported. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) was troubled by possible transportation dangers. While supporting the Yucca plan, Durbin said he would address transportation concerns in separate legislation.

Majority Whip Harry M. Reid (D-NV) and Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and others called the administration plan "the big lie." They said Yucca would not solve the waste storage problem because spent fuel will continue to pile up at nuclear power plants. More than 40,000 tons of spent nuclear materials are stored in 131 aboveground sites in 39 states, and about 2,000 tons of new waste is generated annually.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department still must obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build and operate the repository - a process that could take four or five years -- and overcome a series of lawsuits brought by Nevada state officials. The Energy Department's goal is to ship the waste to the Yucca site by rail and truck, beginning in 2010.