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Pressure builds for Yucca Mountain

  Pressure builds for Yucca Mountain

If the U.S. Senate has its way, more than 30,000 tons of some of the worst stuff on earth will be temporarily stored at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

In April the Senate voted 65-34 to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, thereby designating southwestern Nevada as the temporary resting place for high-level nuclear waste from 80 sites in 41 states. Opponents say transporting the waste, most of it from nuclear power plants, poses a potential hazard to millions of people. They also fear that a temporary designation would lead to permanent status.

"Once waste is moved to a centralized site it will never be moved again," Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, D, told AP. Nevada officials have fought plans to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain since 1987, when the DOE first designated the mountain as its only test site for permanent storage.

The Senate vote was two shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto promised by President Clinton, and Reid and fellow Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan, D, say they're confident they have the votes to sustain the veto. However, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, a co-sponsor of the bill, says he believes enough senators will change their votes his way.

The pressure to find a solution has intensified since a federal judge ruled last year that the Department of Energy is contractually bound to begin accepting hazardous waste in 1998, whether or not a storage site has been approved.

If the bill becomes law, Nevada would have to begin accepting waste by as early as 2003, though DOE officials say they "still have three to five years of testing just to ensure that the site is safe," says spokesman Erik Olds. The bill will be debated this summer in the House of Representatives.

" Jamie Murray