ASHINGTON, May 8 ó The House voted overwhelmingly
today to go ahead with a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain
in Nevada, brushing off arguments of environmental and
Representative Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Republican who
is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said
adoption of the plan would "get our nuclear industry back on a
safe path" and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia,
said, "Clearly it is in the interests of this country to
construct one permanent, highly secure facility."
According to the Department of Energy, about 80,000 tons of
high-level radioactive waste is stored at 131 above-ground
sites in 39 states. But several opponents contend that
transporting the waste on the highways will invite hijackings
by terrorists. Representative Joe Baca, Democrat of
California, said, "We will create thousands of weapons for
terrorists." Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of
Massachusetts, said, "Al Qaeda had nuclear at the very top of
its terrorist targets."
The vote was 306 to 117 to override Gov. Kenny Guinn of
Nevada, who had rejected the Bush administration's plan to
ship nuclear waste from all over the country to Yucca Mountain
beginning in 2010. Voting in favor were 203 Republicans, 102
Democrats and 1 independent; voting against were 13
Republicans, 103 Democrats and 1 independent.
The vote is expected to be much closer in the Senate, where
the plan is likely to be approved in June or July, although
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic whip, said, "We
haven't given up."
To round up Senate votes, opponents of the waste site are
emphasizing the dangers of moving nuclear waste through 45
states, an argument made futilely today by Representative
Richard A. Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, the House minority
leader. Mr. Gephardt predicted derailments and other
"It makes no sense to have all of this material traveling
across the country by truck and rail," he said. Instead of
isolating risk, he added, "Yucca Mountain spreads it around."
Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas, foresaw
"mobile Chernobyls crossing the country."
Their argument was challenged by Representative John
Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, who said there had already
been 3,000 shipments of nuclear waste. "Not one of those
shipments threatened the environment or public safety," Mr.
Mr. Tauzin spoke generously of two critics from Nevada:
Representatives Jim Gibbons, a Republican, and Shelley
Berkley, a Democrat. But he said other foes just "basically
oppose nuclear energy."
He urged the House to vote for the Yucca Mountain site and
"settle the waste issue."
"Help secure America," he said.
Opponents said Nevada was being victimized by a "not in my
backyard" approach. Representative Markey said other states
that did not want the waste had dealt Nevada the "nuclear
queen of spades."
House proponents insisted that for 20 years, scientific
studies had shown that Yucca Mountain was a safe repository.
No lawmakers argued directly that the waste should simply be
sent out of their backyards. But several lawmakers argued that
the material should not be allowed to remain near the Great
Lakes because they were a source of drinking water for
millions of people. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of
Illinois, emphasized that one reason he supported the measure
was that his state "has the most nuclear power plants of any
state in our union."
While Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas,
said adoption of the Yucca Mountain site would enable Nevada
to reclaim its "nuclear heritage," Representative Berkley said
Nevadans wanted none of that heritage because the government
lied to them in the 1950's when it told them there was no
danger from atomic bomb tests. She said that many Nevadans had
died of cancer and that the government was now "asking us to
trust them like our parents and grandparents did."
Jim Matheson, Democrat of Utah, said many in his state,
including his father, had died of cancers from radiation
carried downwind from Nevada. "I can tell you," Mr. Matheson
said, "as a son of a downwinder and a congressman who
represents thousands of sick, dying and widowed victims of our
nuclear testing that the federal record on this issue has been