Nov. 1, 2011 – 10:43 p.m.

Showdown Ahead Over Attempt to Prevent Yucca Shutdown

Republican Sen. Mark Steven Kirk has set the stage for a showdown with Harry Reid over the now-dormant plan for a nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain in the Democratic majority leader’s state of Nevada.

Kirk says he may offer an amendment next week mirroring a provision of the House-passed version of the fiscal 2012 Energy-Water appropriations bill that would effectively revive efforts to complete and open the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“We need to continue preparations on Yucca,” he said. His amendment would bar the use of funds to close the facility.

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the bill (HR 2354) next week in a package including the Financial Services (S 1573) bill and possibly the State-Foreign Operations (S 1601) measure.

The Obama administration says it has canceled the Yucca Mountain project. A request to withdraw a licensing application for the site was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year.

A senior Democratic aide said that Reid would probably not prevent Kirk from offering his amendment, although the majority leader would vote against it.

Democratic aides said that exactly which amendments will be offered to the spending package will be worked out by Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Despite Reid’s opposition, Kirk could pick up Democratic support from Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, a longtime ally of the nuclear power industry, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. “I’ve supported Yucca Mountain in the past. I’ll have to take a look at it,” Nelson said.

Another target for Kirk is his Illinois colleague, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin. But for now, the No. 2 Senate Democrat is siding with Reid. “My understanding is the Yucca Mountain project has been at least suspended. And I’m sure there are reasons for that. I’ve had questions about it,” Durbin said.

Kirk said he also hopes to work with Energy and Water Appropriations Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. The California Democrat says she has no position on Kirk’s proposal. “I’d rather maintain that inscrutability,” she said.

But Feinstein said she supports language in the Senate version of the spending bill calling for a nuclear waste strategy that “will likely require one or more consolidated storage facilities with adequate capacity to be sited, licensed, and constructed in multiple regions.”

As a House member, Kirk began laying groundwork to promote the Yucca Mountain repository nine years ago by helping to set up an informal nuclear fuel safety caucus. One member of that group, House Energy and Water Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, now vows to push for the House language on the matter.

“I feel very strongly about it,” he said. “It’s bipartisan.”