Senior House GOP lawmaker says nuclear waste bill without Yucca will fail

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Greenwire on Tuesday that he is preparing a bipartisan nuclear waste management bill. Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and energy appropriators Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are also involved.

Framework for nuclear waste legislation in the Senate last year did not include Yucca, and probably won’t this session either.

Part of the reason is because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has railed against Yucca throughout his political career, making it unlikely that he would call such a bill for a vote. On top of that, President Obama campaigned on shutting the site down during his first presidential election.

Obama, with the support of Reid, pulled the plug in 2010 on Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviews of the Energy Department’s application for using Yucca as a permanent repository.

Shimkus has said that move was illegal, citing the 1982 nuclear waste law.

“Read my lips — Yucca Mountain is the law of the land,” Shimkus said.

Shimkus also refuted Wyden's comments that the Oregon Democrat was sensing progress in nuclear waste management discussions with top House energy Republicans. Shimkus said he would have been involved in those conversations, as nuclear waste management is his subcommittee's jurisdiction.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) "said they really didn't talk about nuclear waste at all," Shimkus said. "It's all on generic energy policy. Not on nuclear waste."

Still, Shimkus said the upper chamber’s discussions are “interesting,” noting that some lawmakers appear committed to moving high-level nuclear waste out of their states.

Wyden is one of those senators. He has said he is open to moving some of that waste stored near risky spots — such as along fault lines — to interim storage facilities.

While House Republicans are resolute on using Yucca, Murkowski has embraced moving ahead with other sites.

Murkowski has said she still holds out hope for Yucca. But she said the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future — an expert panel on nuclear waste formed by Obama in 2009 — should serve as the foundation for Senate legislation.

That commission, among other suggestions, said states that want a nuclear repository should be allowed to apply for that distinction rather than forcing it on Nevada through Yucca.

“I don’t want to give up on Yucca because of what has been invested in it, but I also don’t want to waste another decade and get nowhere,” Murkowski said last month in a pen and pad briefing with reporters.