Supporters play up Reid's fight over Yucca Mountain

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 3:11 PM

Supporters of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid are trying out practical arguments to persuade Nevada voters to reject GOP challenger Sharron Angle.

One point of contrast they're amplifying in the campaign's closing days: the very real possibility that Reid's defeat could revive the development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, just 90 miles from the Las Vegas Strip.

It's fair to say that stopping the Yucca site has been a Reid obsession in recent years. The project, proposed in a 1988 bill known to its Silver State critics as the "Screw Nevada Act," would designate Yucca as the official dumping ground for 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel, transported from reactors across the country. The nuclear power industry views Yucca as vital to its revival because it would provide the long-term storage capacity now lacking. Lots of other states would love to unload their toxic nuclear waste, now stored at local sites, by shipping it to the Nevada desert.

Reid's Web site contends that the senator "effectively killed" the Yucca project, and that's not an exaggeration. The senator has proudly and defiantly manipulated spending and other bills to stall the site's development. The site has never moved beyond the planning stage. President Obama also opposes the Yucca project, and his fiscal 2010 budget cut all funding for it, other than a small amount of money needed to wind it down. The Obama administration has begun looking for other nuclear waste storage sites.

Angle takes another view. A proponent of nuclear power, she wants to develop Yucca as a national reprocessing site rather than for waste storage. The reprocessed fuel would be used to operate a new nuclear reactor on the Yucca site.

"We have some potential for some job creation here and for some diversification of the economy if we make some lemonade out of lemons" and develop the Yucca site, she told Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston in July.

But prominent Nevadans have pointed to Yucca as one reason to think twice about ousting Reid. Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican who has endorsed Angle, said last week that Reid's track record of protecting Nevada's interests should not be overlooked.

"Obviously, I side with Sharron on conservatism and her positions on taxes and size of government," Heller said during the taping of a local political program. "But also on the other side, you've got to look at what Senator Reid has done for the state of Nevada in keeping Yucca Mountain" out.

"Believe me, I've been on the House floor. I've been yelling and screaming against Yucca Mountain," Heller said. "In fact, we had a vote recently; I think there were only 10 votes opposed to Yucca Mountain in the House of Representatives. The only reason it didn't go forward was because of Senator Reid and his leadership in the Senate."

The Reid campaign played up a weekend campaign appearance between Angle and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a proponent of the Yucca project, who has sparred with Reid over it for more than 20 years. McCain was one of nine senators to vote against ending funding for the project when the issue came last before the Senate in 2009.

"They both share a vision that's dangerous to Nevada's economy," the Reid campaign pronounced of Angle and McCain. The statement added a dash of doom: "Economists have suggested that a single [nuclear] accident - or even perception of danger of an accident - would devastate Nevada's tourism industry, making tough economic times far, far worse."

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