RENO — Lawmakers from Nevada said Thursday they feared that President Bush's plan to expand nuclear energy would create more pressure to build a high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
Bush's new energy plan calls for the "safe expansion" of nuclear energy by establishing a national repository for nuclear waste. It does not specify whether the repository should be built at Yucca Mountain.
"The . . . plan promotes nuclear power as a miracle fix to our nation's energy woes, just as it was 30 years ago--and we still don't have a solution for the safe disposal of radioactive waste," said Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) agreed, saying, "Until we solve the nuclear waste issue, it is not a viable alternative in my view.
"While nuclear energy may be the cleanest energy-producing material for the environment, it leaves the highest toxic waste material known to man in its wake," he said.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) saw positive signs in Bush's proposals, including funding for recycling and technology to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, but he had a caveat.
"If the Bush administration wants to push nuclear power, I would support them in that effort, if it means they won't be bringing nuclear waste to the state of Nevada," Ensign said.
"But I will strongly oppose additional nuclear power plants as part of the Bush administration's energy package if there is a push for storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain."
Ensign said it is cheaper and safer to store nuclear waste in dry casks at sites where it is produced than to ship it for storage in Nevada.
In terms of direct references to Yucca Mountain, Reid said the language in Bush's plan "is much softer than I thought it would be."
"The [Energy Department] is over a decade behind schedule for accepting nuclear waste from utilities but has made progress toward characterization of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., site," the report said.
"Construction of an exploratory studies facility has been completed, a viability assessment was published, and recently scientists placed their extensive research about Yucca Mountain on the record for public scrutiny. However, key regulatory standards to protect public health and the environment at the repository have not been issued."
"It's not perfect by far, but it doesn't call for interim storage. It doesn't call for changing [Environmental Protection Agency] standards. It even gives some hope in looking at other technologies," said Reid, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.