The plan to open a nuclear waste repository under Nevada's Yucca Mountain has taken a big step forward with Senate approval of the plan. The key action on was a 60-39 vote on July 9 to take up the resolution authorizing the site. The Senate then passed the resolution by a voice vote. In May, the House approved the Yucca Mountain resolution by a 306-117 vote.

Location of proposed repository site. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept of Energy)

Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) had vetoed the plan to build the waste facility, which would be located about 100 miles from Las Vegas, but the House and Senate actions overrode his veto.

But the Dept. of Energy still must apply for and receive a license for the repository from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Moreover, the state of Nevada has challenged the plan in federal court.

DOE estimated last year that the facility would cost $57.5 billion, in 2000 dollars, through 2019. That is 26% above DOE's 1998 estimate. Of the total, design and construction expense was an estimated $4.5 billion, up 44% from 1998.

The vote was hailed by the nuclear industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham, who said that "by moving the process forward, we have the opportunity to dispose of nuclear waste that has piled up at 131 sites in 39 states."

But Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said, "The Senate has made a grave mistake...and we hope the courts will halt this unsafe scheme."