Tuesday, May 27, 2008 | 1:35 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Yucca Mountain dropped back into the presidential race today when Sen. John McCain suggested the planned nuclear waste dump outside of Las Vegas may not be needed after all.
Among the remaining presidential contenders, McCain has been the lone supporter of Yucca Mountain, making him the odd candidate out among Nevadans who overwhelmingly oppose the repository. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have both assured Nevada they would oppose the dump.
But in a talk on nuclear security at the University of Denver, McCain offered another approach as part of global efforts to watchdog civilian nuclear power:
“I would seek to establish an international repository for spent nuclear fuel that could collect and safely store materials overseas that might otherwise be reprocessed to acquire bomb-grade materials. It is even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.”
Up in Reno, the Gazette-Journal’s Anjeanette Damon was among the first to nab McCain’s prepared comments this morning with this entry. She notes: “In his last visit to Nevada, a Vegas fundraiser in March, McCain began using the George W. Bush line about relying on science to determine if the site is safe. The international repository line is new for McCain.”
Here in Washington, McCain’s comments did not go unnoticed by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main lobbying arm, which offered this headline: “McCain proposes alternative to Yucca Mountain.” Read the blog entry here.
McCain’s comments came as Nevada officials held an anti-Yucca Mountain rally today in Las Vegas – a piece de resistance in advance of the Energy department’s plans to file the long-awaited application to license the dump as early as next week.
Sen. Harry Reid took the opportunity to blast the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, telling reporters afterward that McCain’s idea was a “phony deal” and his comments were a naked political power play. “He knows Nevada is a battleground state,” Reid said. “And he’s trying to waffle.”
Reid added: “If he’s opposed to Yucca Mountain, why doesn’t he just come out and oppose it? He’s afraid to.”
In brief remarks to about 60 people gathered at the Clark County amphitheatre, Reid called on the crowd to hold McCain accountable.
“John McCain has voted every opportunity he’s had in favor of Yucca Mountain,” he said. “He’s still in favor of Yucca Mountain. John McCain is on the wrong side of that issue.”
Rep. Jon Porter, facing a re-election challenge in a district that has turned increasingly Democratic, pivoted away from McCain and Republican leadership in comments to reporters after the event, citing his introduction of an amendment that would have cut funding for the project. “Sen. McCain has been very clear on his position. ... I don’t agree with him. He’s wrong and I’ve told him that. But at least his record is clear.”
Porter said Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had not done enough to cut off funding for Yucca. “They’re giving us lip service,” he said. “If they were serious, they’d be helping Sen. Reid.”
Porter’s challenger, state Sen. Dina Titus, attended the event but did not speak.
Mascaro reported from Washington, Mishak from Las Vegas.