House backs revival of Yucca repository

WASHINGTON - The House voted by a wide margin Wednesday to restore a slice of funding for the Yucca Mountain repository, signaling it remains unhappy with President Barack Obama's decision to terminate the nuclear waste project.

The 326-81 vote was arranged by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to show the Nevada site still enjoys support from members of Congress from both parties.

His amendment shifts $10 million to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume licensing for the site; that's on top of $35 million already allocated for the project in an energy bill.

Last year, the commission suspended Yucca Mountain licensing, its chairman contending Obama planned no further spending on it. A federal court is considering a lawsuit to force the agency to resume the work.

Shimkus argued the agency must complete its review of the Yucca site .

"Having spent 30 years and $15 billion of ratepayer money, the American people at least deserve to find out the answer to whether Yucca is safe," he said.

The $10 million, shifted from an Energy Department administrative account, was made part of a $32.1 billion energy and water spending bill for fiscal 2013.

Ninety-eight Democrats joined 228 Republicans in voting for more Yucca spending. Nevada's three House members, Democrat Shelley Berkley and Republicans Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, voted against it.

The House has approved Yucca Mountain spending in each of the years since Obama began ending the project in 2009, but the result for two years has been zero dollars for the repository, partly at the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"The Yucca Mountain project failed and is now a relic of the past," Reid said Wednesday in reaction to the House vote. "Proposals to resurrect it are akin to throwing billions of taxpayer money down a hole without any possibility that nuclear waste will ever be dealt with."

This year, the Senate's version of the energy spending bill contains no money for the Nevada repository. It directs the Department of Energy to start looking for volunteer states where nuclear waste could be stored temporarily while a volunteer repository might be found.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also is forming a nuclear waste bill based on the work of a commission that issued recommendations in January. Bingaman said Wednesday he hoped to introduce the bill and hold hearings on it this summer.

In a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Bingaman said a major focus will be to create a quasi-government organization given the job of finding and developing volunteer nuclear waste sites.

He said he did not expect Congress to pass a bill this year, in part because "the House seems more interested in continuing to fight about Yucca Mountain."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.