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Nuclear Waste Debate Simmers on Capital Hill
A Contentious Bill Passes Senate (em Two Votes Shy of Blocking a Veto
Recently passed by the U.S. Senate, nuclear waste bill S. 104 lies mired in quicksand, facing a promised presidential veto, not to mention attacks from senators representing those states targeted for possible waste storage sites. Disposal of waste from the nation's nuclear generating plants has turned into possibly the most contentious issue on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) showed how serious he was about nuclear waste disposal last February when he held up confirmation of Energy Secretary Federico Peña. He would not allow the appointment to move forward until he received assurances from the Clinton Administration that it would consider safe interim storage for the high-level radioactive waste.
On April 15, the Senate passed The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997, S. 104, by a vote of 65-34. Murkowski, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, had proposed the bill, which calls for interim storage of nuclear waste now stored at 80 locations in 41 states. The waste would be stored at the Nevada Test Site, which had previously been used to explode nuclear weapons. It would remain at the temporary site until a location for permanent storage (em presently proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (em could be made ready.
Nevada's two Democrat Senators, Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, remain adamant that their state (which has no working nuclear plants) should not take on the risks associated with nuclear waste storage. In fact, when Murkowski scheduled April 8 for debate on S. 104, he had to maneuver to cut off a filibuster threatened by the Nevada senators.
And the Office of Management and Budget has advised in a "Statement of Administration Policy" that in its present form, the President would veto the bill.
Meanwhile, a federal circuit court recently has denied a motion by the Department of Energy to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by 46 state agencies and 36 nuclear utilities on behalf of ratepayers who have paid more than $13 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund. The lawsuit seeks a court order to compel the federal government to take possession of waste for interim storage by 1998. However, even if Yucca Mountain is approved for storage (em it would not be ready to store waste until approximately 2015. On April 30, the court put the proceeding on the fast track. It ruled that future filings in the waste lawsuit will be treated as petitions to compel DOE to comply with a previous court decision finding that DOE's obligation to store nuclear waste begins Jan. 31, 1998.
Murkowski vs. Clinton
In the lingo of Capitol Hill, "debate on the motion to proceed" on S. 104 began in earnest on the afternoon of April 7. On that day, Murkowski offered significant changes to his bill to address concerns expressed by colleagues. Murkowski offered the following amendments:
• Extend the schedule for siting and licensing an interim facility (to June 30, 2003, if Yucca is viable, and June 30, 2005, if it is not);