U.S. House slaps down proposed Yucca Mountain funding cut

WASHINGTON — A bid by Nevada lawmakers to attack funding for the Yucca Mountain Project was snuffed out Tuesday in the U.S. House.

In the latest test of sentiment over the controversial Nevada nuclear waste site, an amendment to transfer $25 million away from the project in an energy spending bill was killed 335-81.

The result was almost identical to a 326-81 vote last year in favor of Yucca Mountain, which had been the focus of government nuclear waste disposal until the project was shelved by President Barack Obama.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., proposed to shift the funding into physics research that is developing accelerator technology to reduce the toxicity of nuclear waste, which Heck touted as a “21st century solution” for the highly radioactive material.

By comparison, “sticking our country’s highly radioactive nuclear waste in a hole in the ground is a 20th century solution,” he said, referring to storage tunnels that would be carved within the Nevada mountain ridge .

Heck was backed by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who said the energy bill “mandated more wasteful spending in a defunct project.”

Leaders of the House Appropriations Committee were having none of it.

Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said there already was sufficient money in the bill for physics research.

Besides, he said, “We are going to need some money to reopen Yucca Mountain,” which the Obama administration shelved in 2009 at the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and to the chagrin of lawmakers from nuclear plant states wanting to remove highly radioactive waste from reactor sites.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, the top Democrat on the energy and water subcommittee, said that with more than $10 billion already spent, “at a minimum” it should be determined whether the Yucca site is safe and can be licensed.

The Heck amendment “takes us in the wrong direction,” she said.

Support remains strong for the repository in the House, which has allocated funding each year to revive the project only to have it zeroed out in the Senate. A $30.4 billion energy spending bill being debated this week includes $20 million to resume Yucca Mountain licensing and $5 million for Nevada counties.