U.S. House passes nuclear waste bill
WASHINGTON - The U.S. House yesterday passed legislation to store the nations hazardous nuclear waste from commercial power plants in the Nevada desert by decades end, but the measure faces an almost assured veto by President Clinton.
With a 253 to 167 vote, the House approved the plan to construct a waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., as early as 2007. A similar bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate last month, but fell three votes short of a veto-proof majority. Texas Republican Joe Barton, shepherded the bill to passage but could not appease objections from the White House over how radiation exposure standards would be set and other issues. "To truly make progress, the President should work with us to find the best resolution rather than threatening a veto and forcing a compromise which doesnt solve the real problems at hand," Barton said in a news release.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said in a statement that he "regrets an agreement with Congress was not reached on the nuclear waste bill," and recommended a veto. "It is unacceptable and the secretary recommends a presidential veto," said a DOE spokeswoman. If Clinton makes good on his veto threat, the problem of how to dispose of 400,000 metric tons of spent fuel from 80 reactors in 40 states will not be settled in the near-term. The Clinton administration and House Democratic leaders objected to provisions negating language in the bill to have the Department of Energy (DOE) take ownership of the spent fuel in the years before a repository is built.
The White House also was not satisfied with the final draft language on delaying until 2001 the right of the Environmental Protection Agency to set radiation exposure limits. The nuclear industry applauded the House vote, saying that if enacted the legislation would ensure the continued production of nuclear energy by settling the waste storage issue.
"The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act offers the President a historic opportunity to steer our nation onto the path of safe geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste," said John Kane, vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. DOE still must give final approval to Yucca Mountain as the permanent site for the commercial waste, which would also house some radioactive material from Defence Department programmes. A departmental recommendation is due by 2001.
Environmentalists believe Yucca Mountain is unsafe, citing concerns the area lies on a geographic fault line, that ground water seepage has occurred where the repository would be built and transportation of waste would threaten nearby Las Vegas. "Its a bad bill thats bad for the publics health and bad for the environment," said Ann Mesnikoff, Sierra Club spokeswoman.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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