House OKs Fed Sites for Nuke Waste

The House (search) voted Tuesday to begin temporary storage of commercial nuclear waste at one or more federal facilities, fearing further delays in a proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

The directive was included in a $29.7 billion measure funding the Energy Department (search) and came over the objections of lawmakers from Washington and South Carolina, two states where the waste from commercial power reactors might be located.

An attempt by Rep. Edward Markey (search), D-Mass., to strip the bill of $10 million for the interim storage program failed 312-110. The House passed the spending measure Tuesday night by a 416-13 vote.

While the legislation leaves it up to the Energy Department to select one or more interim storage sites, a report accompanying the bill suggested the Energy Department's Savannah River (search) weapons facility in South Carolina, the Hanford complex in Washington state and a facility in Idaho as possible locations. It also said the department should consider other federal sites, including closed defense bases for temporary storage.

It calls on the energy secretary to produce a plan for interim storage four months after the bill becomes law and begin accepting waste before the end of next year. The legislation must still be considered by the Senate.

Washington and South Carolina lawmakers said that if their states are targeted, they feared the interim facilities could end up as permanent waste repositories. They worried that establishing interim waste dumps might reduce pressure to open Yucca Mountain.

"The state of Washington does not want to become ... a nuclear waste dump more than we are already," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "Interim, in geologic time, could mean several lifetimes."

The interim storage proposal comes as concerns continue about delays in opening the proposed Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Last year a federal court questioned its proposed radiation protection plans. More recently concerns surfaced over allegations that government workers on the project falsified data.

The bill provides $661 million for continued development of the Yucca facility, which must still get a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the Appropriations energy subcommittee, said that he strongly supports development of the Yucca facility but that interim storage is needed because of the delays. He said the government faces an estimated $500 million in additional liability costs for every year the government fails to accept waste. By law, the Energy Department was supposed to begin taking commercial used reactor fuel in 1998.

More than 50,000 tons of nuclear waste is now kept at reactors in 31 states.

The spending bill also contains $4.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, most of it devoted to waterways, dams and flood control projects. That is $414 million more than requested by President Bush but $294 million less than current funding.

The House approved less money than the Bush administration had wanted for maintaining the country's nuclear weapons. The White House said the $450 million cut from its request for the nuclear weapons program threatens the ability to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without underground testing. Lawmakers added the $450 million to the president's $6 billion request for environmental cleanup at heavily polluted sites used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The bill calls for spending $62 million for oil and gas research, programs the administration had wanted phased out, arguing that the highly profitable industry already "has the financial incentives and resources" to develop new technologies without taxpayer subsidies.

Separately, a House Appropriations subcommittee approved by voice vote a bill to fully fund Bush's request for NASA, while cutting law enforcement grants to state and local governments and in the State Department's budget. The trade-offs came in a $57.5 billion measure for NASA and the Commerce, Justice and State departments.

The subcommittee's treatment of NASA, approving Bush's full $16.5 billion request, contrasts with last year's budget cycle when a bill containing the agency's funding slashed Bush's request by 7 percent, or more than $1 billion.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, whose district is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, refused to bring that bill to the floor and forced negotiators to restore the cuts when assembling a $388 billion catchall spending bill last November.

The measure approved by the subcommittee on Tuesday would cut crime-fighting grants to state and local governments by $400 million from current levels. The panel also would cut $273 million from Bush's request for the State Department but boost FBI spending by 10 percent over this year.