Nuclear waste shipments would be far less likely to roll through Spokane under a measure passed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to send the radioactive leftovers from the nation’s nuclear reactors to Yucca Mountain, Nev. At the same time, it took the Hanford Nuclear Reservation out of consideration for an interim storage site.
“It’s good news for Hanford,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “It means we won’t have commercial nuclear waste being stored at Hanford in the future.”
Trucks and trains carrying waste shipments would have come through Spokane and North Idaho on their way to Hanford.
The Senate voted 65-34 to create the nation’s sole interim nuclear waste storage site in the Nevada desert about 100 miles from Las Vegas, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
The tally is two votes shy of the 67 needed to override President Clinton’s expected veto. One of the bill’s main proponents, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is confident the House of Representatives will pass it.
“I think we’ll put a bill on the desk of the president before the July break,” Craig said. “We are building the votes to override.”
Murray, who disagrees with fellow Democrat Clinton on the issue, will vote to override a veto, a spokeswoman said.
According to a written statement, the Clinton administration opposes the bill, formally known as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997, because it weakens environmental standards and rushes a “viability” study of the Nevada site.
Critics are worried that moving the hazardous waste through 43 states will be dangerous. The bill offers no alternative storage site, essentially making the “temporary” storage facility permanent.
Proponents say legal challenges are forcing a quicker solution to the storage problem.
“The president’s opposition is hard to understand because we are literally under a court order to come up with an answer to this question by some time next year,” said Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who voted for the bill.
The legal quagmire behind the proposal began in 1982 when the federal government signed a contract with private utility companies promising it would store their nuclear waste.
For the last 15 years, utility customers have chipped into a fund to cover federal storage costs. The federal government has spent billions trying to find an appropriate site.
In the meantime, utility companies have been paying to store the materials themselves. According the Associated Press, utility companies want the spent fuel taken away as soon as possible because some plants will start running out of storage space next year. States and utilities are now suing the government to live up to its contract.
The Department of Energy will issue a study in late 1998 on whether Yucca Mountain will be a safe storage site. If the department says the site is unsafe, the administration would have 18 months to find a new interim storage site.
The legislation the Senate passed Tuesday calls for nuclear waste to be stored above ground starting in 2003. The department estimates the Nevada Test Site, where the government has tested nuclear weapons, will not be ready for permanent storage until 2010 to 2015.
Under the bill, Nevada would get 12,200 canisters of high-level nuclear waste from Hanford and 700 canisters from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab in Idaho Falls.
Idaho now stores all of the Navy’s spent nuclear fuel, Craig said. The bill allows a portion of the storage space at Yucca Mountain to be used for military nuclear waste.
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