Sen. Reid trying, as usual, to cut Yucca Mountain funding
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is doing his best again this year to slash the budgets used to move forward with the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain.
His loss of a chairmanship is working against him, but a tight federal budget will work in his favor, congressional aides said.
The Senate is expected to take action this week on a spending bill that includes $336 million to continue work on the proposed high-level waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Reid persuaded senators to chop $255 million off the Bush administration’s request of $591 million. House members could approve more money for Yucca Mountain in their budget, and then some sort of compromise would be found.
Yucca Mountain’s funding has dropped from $392 million in fiscal 2001 to $377 million last year in large part due to Reid’s opposition to the nuclear waste dump in his state.
“He’ll keep doing it,” Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Reid is in a less powerful position than he used to be to continue trying to thwart the administration’s Yucca Mountain plans.
He lost his chairmanship of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees Yucca Mountains budget when Republicans regained control of the Senate in the November elections.
“Although as ranking member, he’ll have additional seniority, Senator Reid will not be wielding the kind of power he had on that subcommittee as chairman,” said Will Hart, spokesman for Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
Highly radioactive waste stored at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in eastern Idaho is slated for shipment to Yucca Mountain if it opens, and Craig is a strong supporter of building the facility.
Reid has slashed Yucca Mountain project funding for several years and each time, a Senate-House conference committee restored most or all of it, Hart said. But it won’t be as easy putting the money back in this year because of budget constraints, he said.
“We won’t necessarily get back up to the $600 million (requested by Bush), but Senator Craig is pretty confident well be bringing that number up and that things will definitely change now that (the Republicans) are in the majority,” Hart told the Gazette-Journal.
The Yucca Mountain money goes toward maintaining the five-mile exploratory tunnel, ongoing scientific studies and readying the license application to be presented to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the end of 2004, said Gail Fisher, a spokeswoman for the project.
Energy Department officials could not be reached for comment on whether reduced funding would delay its Yucca Mountain application beyond 2004.