WASHINGTON - Support for legislation forcing Nevada to take nuclear waste slipped enough over the past year so that now neither the House or Senate has a veto-proof margin.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said the legislation was approved 253-167 Wednesday, less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.
Sens. Dick Bryan and Harry Reid, both Democrats, have managed to do the same in the U.S. Senate nearly every year for the past decade and, once again, say they have President Clinton's promise to veto the bill.
That means if the President follows through, there aren't enough supporters in either the House or Senate to override the veto.
"The combined efforts of our bipartisan delegation in both the House and Senate greatly helps our fight to ultimately stop this nuclear waste bill," said Gibbons, adding that Nevada has managed to find a way to stop the nuclear dump legislation for 13 years now.
"It is time that the nuclear waste dump proponents realize Nevadans are never going to back down in our fierce opposition to this bill," said Gibbons.
"For the safety of Nevada's families and communities, it is critical that the President follow through with his promise to veto legislation that would send dangerous nuclear waste to Nevada," he said.
While Nevada's lawmakers sought to keep waste out of their state, other opponents of the bill said it does not go far enough to ensure a central storage facility is built. Some House members said they were concerned about thousands of waste shipments, many by truck, crisscrossing the country.
This bill ''does more harm than good, it's a sham. It's nothing more than bait and switch,'' complained Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., noting that an earlier demand that an interim waste site be built in Nevada had been abandoned.
In an attempt to get broader support, the Senate also scuttled a requirements for the government to take formal title of the waste - even it still remains at reactor sites.
For six years, Congress has struggled over the buildup of used reactor fuel - waste that will remain highly radioactive for 10,000 years - at 71 reactor sites around the country. Some utilities contend they are running out of storage room while electricity users have contributed $13 billion into a federal waste fund.
The bill no longer would create a temporary storage site in Nevada. But it would open the way for waste shipments to begin once the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues a license for the Yucca Mountain permanent waste site in the Nevada desert.
The proposed Yucca Mountain facility 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas remains under scientific review, but is scheduled to be opened in 2010 if found technically suitable. The NRC is expected to decide whether to give it a license in 2006.
Critics as well as the White House also have argued that the legislation would weaken the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to set radiation standards for the future permanent repository.
Under the legislation, the EPA would have to consult with the NRC and the National Academy of Sciences if it wanted to issue the standards before June 1, 2001. The NRC has suggested less stringent standards than the EPA is considering for the Yucca Mountain site.