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June 3, 2015

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Senator’s bill may usher in more congenial era of nuclear waste policy

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Associated Press

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., speaks about gas prices as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, listen in May 2008.

There’s a new bill on nuclear waste disposal in Congress. But this time, it’s not from some House Republican dead-set on jump-starting dumps at Yucca Mountain.

Outgoing Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, released his much-anticipated bill on Wednesday formalizing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste Management.

The commission, which met through last year, released a report in January that set guidelines for selecting a future site, including a recommendation that the federal government engage in a cooperative process with any potential state host for a long-term storage facility.

While Yucca Mountain was not specifically mentioned, the lessons of it were clearly apparent: When choosing future sites, don’t stuff a project down an unwilling state’s throat.

“I appreciate Sen. Bingaman’s efforts and believe he has taken a courageous step toward safely and securely managing nuclear waste,” Sen. Harry Reid, perhaps Congress’ most vocal opponent of bringing the country’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, said Wednesday. “I look forward to working with him and my colleagues to finally develop a nuclear waste policy that protects Nevadans and all Americans.”

While members of the Nevada delegation have varying opinions as to what the best use of Yucca Mountain would be, the entire Nevada delegation is opposed to using the site as it was initially designated under federal law, as a nuclear waste dumpyard.

Bingaman’s bill is, at best, an opening statement for a conversation that even he acknowledged, is likely to take far longer than he plans to be in Congress to see it through.

For example, Bingaman said he had been unable to reach an agreement with Republicans on how new nuclear waste facilities should be authorized.

“I recognize (action on and implementation of this bill) will not happen this year,” Bingaman said in an official statement he released with the bill. “It will take a great deal more time and work. But it must begin and I hope it will continue in the next Congress.”

How the conversation proceeds next Congress, however, will be drastically affected by what transpires in the elections this November. While both presidential candidates have endorsed a consultative approach to siting nuclear waste disposal facilities, Republicans in Congress have already pledged to use their power to restart activity at Yucca Mountain through appropriations if they are able to win the majority of both houses of Congress.

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