Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
About an hour before the Senate gave final approval Thursday to the latest funding cuts to the Yucca Mountain project, the project’s end was neatly summed up during an elevator ride on the other side of the Capitol.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley hustled out of the House chamber and into the crowded elevator full of representatives and reporters heading back to their offices after a series of votes.
One reporter was asking a lawmaker whether there exists in the House a nuclear caucus — a group of representatives working to benefit nuclear power.
Before the lawmaker could reply, Berkley piped up.
“There’s an anti-Yucca Mountain caucus,” the Las Vegas congresswoman said.
“It’s right here,” she said indicating herself. “I’m the chair.”
Chuckles, perhaps some nervousness, all around.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Berkley was Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, whose home state has more nuclear waste waiting to be shipped to Yucca Mountain than any other. Shimkus is a longtime supporter of Yucca Mountain.
They exchanged a few words, punctuated by Berkley demonstrating how she throws darts at a picture of the Illinois congressman in her office. (It was a joke.)
The House had previously approved the annual Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal 2010, which fulfills President Barack Obama’s pledge to dramatically cut the budget for the Yucca Mountain project, the proposed nuclear waste repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The project is receiving $196.8 million, its smallest allocation in years. It is enough funding to continue the license application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission but not much more. Work at the mountain has slowed, and employees have been steadily laid off.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went a step further and got Congress to slash the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s budget almost in half, limiting the panel’s ability to work on the Yucca Mountain application.
Obama has pledged to establish a commission to review alternatives to Yucca Mountain, and Congress batted back an eleventh-hour attempt by the dump’s supporters to include the Yucca Mountain site in the study. Obama has vowed that next year’s budget will fully eliminate funding for Yucca Mountain.
By the end of the day Thursday, the Senate would also give the legislation final approval. The bill now goes to the White House for Obama’s signature.
During the elevator ride, it was suggested that the congresswoman from Nevada and the congressman from Illinois should arm-wrestle and let the winner decide Yucca’s fate.
“She’d win,” the Illinois congressman said. “It’s over.”