A congressional committee on Tuesday approved a record $765 million budget for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, with provisions aimed at accelerating completion of the project in the Nevada desert.
The bill to allocate money for national energy and water projects passed the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, committee chairman and chief author of the bill, said it could go to the full House next week.
"My top priority is Yucca Mountain,"Hobson said. If approved, the bill would require the Energy Department to submit to Congress by the end of this year an updated schedule to open the repository by 2010.
Approval by the full House could bring a showdown with Senate negotiators, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who in past years has succeeded in slashing the Yucca budget.
Reid is a top Democrat on a Senate energy and water projects subcommittee due to consider the Yucca Mountain budget on Wednesday. He said he thought he could negotiate to trim the $765 million budget in the House bill to less than the $591 million that President Bush has requested.
Hobson said there was strong bipartisan support in the House for the $765 million Yucca budget and the other Yucca provisions.
"The only people who don't like it are from Nevada,"he said.
The bill, which applies to the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, also prods Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to pick a rail corridor within 60 days of the bill's enactment.
Yucca Mountain is at the western edge of the Nevada Test Site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The bill calls for the rail corridor to pass near Caliente, in rural Lincoln County. Hobson said avoiding Las Vegas will avoid political squabbles with Nevada officials.
The bill allocates $70 million for a Nevada rail spur and directs the Energy Department to submit to Congress by Dec. 31, 2004, a comprehensive transportation plan for 2010 to 2020.
The measure for the first time offers $30 million to mitigate potential economic, social, health, safety and environmental impacts in Nevada counties and communities.
It also set aside up to $2.5 million for Nevada and $6.5 million for affected counties to use for Yucca oversight, but releases the money after Energy Department managers have reviewed state and local plans for the money.
The Energy Department would get another $4 million to develop a plan by the end of the year to ship waste to a temporary site in Nevada beginning in 2007, three years before the 2010 target for opening the repository.
President Bill Clinton previously vetoed plans for an interim waste site.
But the bill says the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated the need for a single secure site to store the nation's radioactive waste.
Nevada lawmakers have argued that leaving the waste at the 103 nuclear reactors around the nation is safer than shipping it to Nevada.
However, Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., called it difficult to counter the Sept. 11 argument.
"Here again, it's 49 states against Nevada,"he said.