House Refuses to Cut Yucca Funds

Yucca Mountain
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The House refused on Friday to chip away at funds for building a nuclear waste repository in Nevada as lawmakers approved a $27.1 billion energy and water bill for next year.

By 251-153, the Republican-run chamber refused to cut $30 million from the government’s plan to build a nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain, a remote ridge 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The long-delayed dump, which received final congressional approval a year ago, could open as early as 2010 and is eventually to hold 77,000 tons of highly radioactive materials, mostly from power plants.

Under the defeated amendment, sponsored by Reps. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Jon Porter, R-Nev., the money was to have been shifted to alternative energy programs, including research into solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. The bill has $330 million for work on renewable energy, $114 million less than President Bush wanted.

More spending for alternative forms of power is justified because the country needs “over-the-horizon thinking” to wean itself from its “addiction” to Middle East oil, said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a supporter of the amendment.

The $30 million was but a small portion of the $765 million the bill has for the nuclear waste disposal, $174 million more than Bush requested. Even so, approval could have opened the door for a new strategy for Yucca Mountain opponents, who have been battling the proposal in Congress and the courts for well over a decade.

“This is a national security issue. We need to have the waste in one place, underground,” said Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., who helped defeat the proposal.

The underlying bill, approved 377-26, has $4.5 billion for hundreds of water projects popular with lawmakers, nearly $300 million more than Bush requested.

In exchange, the measure provides less than Bush wanted for nuclear weapons activities. Included is just $5 million of the $15 million the president requested for research into small nuclear bombs that could penetrate the earth to destroy bunkers.

Another provision would rename Lock and Dam No. 3 on the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania after Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which produced the spending bill. Young, 72, grew up in poverty within eyesight of the dam.