Democrats on Yucca Mountain

By: Anne Cutler Email
By: Anne Cutler Email

Their vigorous opposition to the project reflects Nevada's importance as one of a handful of states that will lead off voting in January for the Democratic and Republican nominations. Few local issues are as unpopular with Nevadans as the waste dump.

The Democrats have just one problem - their records keep getting in the way. Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has created suspicion because she's refused to rule out expansion of nuclear power as a solution to the nation's energy woes and has received campaign contributions from the nuclear industry. Barack Obama, whose home state of Illinois has more nuclear plants than any other, also has received substantial contributions from the industry and wants to leave nuclear power on the table.

John Edwards, when he was a North Carolina senator, voted twice to open the dump and once against it. Bill Richardson once ran the Energy Department, which is building the dump, and voted for it when he was a New Mexico congressman.

The dump, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was supposed to open in 1998, but scientific controversies, lawsuits and money shortages have delayed it. Its opening is now projected for no earlier than 2020 and its cost has climbed to an estimated $77 billion.

The issue has been almost invisible on the Republican side of the race despite GOP plans to hold their presidential caucuses in Nevada on Jan. 19, the same day as Democrats.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has not given a clear answer on his position, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has said he will not rule out continuing work at Yucca Mountain, and Arizona Sen. John McCain has stuck to his support for the dump. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson voted in favor of the project while in Congress, but has not commented recently.

The GOP has generally been more willing than Democrats to increase the nation's share of electricity generated from nuclear power. The lack of a waste disposal site is a key obstacle to expansion.

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