Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008 | 10:42 a.m.
By Lisa Mascaro
WASHINGTON -- Six Republican senators today announced their support for a new Yucca Mountain bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed as a “desperate attempt” to bring the repository back to life.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe’s bill allows licensing of Yucca Mountain essentially as an interim dump site, a designation that would sidestep requirements for the permanent repository to protect Nevadans for 1 million years from potentially cancer-causing radiation exposure.
The bill would allow storage of waste at Yucca for up to 300 years before radiation standards for the next 1 million years need to be established. The standards determine the level of toxins that residents and others near the site can be exposed to without having a high risk of contracting cancer.
Inhofe issued a statement saying he was concerned that “continuing delays in opening our nation's repository at Yucca Mountain will hinder the resurgence of nuclear energy in the U.S.”
Reid and Sen. John Ensign issued a joint statement calling it an “irresponsible bill.” Ensign was not consulted about the bill by his Republican colleagues. The bill is also supported by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican whip, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, an Ensign ally.
The bill’s introduction comes as Yucca Mountain re-entered the national debate as the Democratic presidential candidates campaigned in the run-up to the Nevada caucus. All Democratic candidates oppose the nuclear repository.
The new phased approach would allow the repository to be updated with changes in science and technology, Repubilcan committee staff said. “There are organizations that expect we will cure cancer in 50 to 100 years,” a Republican aide said.
The bill would also set in stone the June 30, 2008 deadline the Energy department set for submitting the project’s license application.
But vast funding cuts engineered last year by Reid now threaten the department's ability to meet that deadline. Missing the milestone would be a significant below to the long-delayed project. The department’s project director said earlier this month he may not be able to complete work by then.
In many ways, the bill attempts to move the goal posts as the Energy department struggles to get the project on track this year, before the pro-nuclear Bush administration leaves office.
Joseph Egan, Nevada’s lead attorney fighting the dump, said, “It would be much, much easier to license something for 300 years than for 1 million years.”
He called the bill a “last gasp” for a dying project and doubted the legislation would advance in this Congress: “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.” Among the reasons: Reid runs the Senate.
Asked about the new legislation later Thursday, Reid said, "It's just for show." He said its chances of passing are "about the same as you're going to drop dead in a few minutes."
Given that I'm still breathing while putting this online....