The Senate Energy Committee yesterday put off until next week a final vote on the controversial Clinch River breeder reactor but tentatively approved a plan to give the Carter administration the option to terminate it.
The committee voted to authorize $159 million for fiscal 1979 to continue construction of the Clinch River, Tenn. plutonium breeder and in the same authorization bill gave Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger the authority to cancel it.
But language drafted into the authorization bill says that if Schlesinger cancels Clinch River he must spend the $159 million designing a breeder that does not produce plutonium the way Clinch River was designed to do. The draft calls for $40 million to be spent on "alternative" breeder design and $119 million on breeder technology research to support the alternative concept.
"The key to an alternate design is that it be proliferation proof," said one Senate Energy Committee aide. "The idea would be to design a breeder that does not breed plutonium in a way that it can be easily extracted from spent fuel."
One reason a final committee vote on the breeder authorization was put off until next week is to give Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) time to amend an amendment already offered the Carter administration to begin design of the alternate breeder if Clinch River is canceled.
"What Sen. Bumpers wants to do is to make sure there is no authority for construction of the alternate breeder in the Melcher amendment," an aide to Bumpers said. "You could read the Melcher amendment the way it stands now as full authority to commit construction funds to an alternate breeder."
President Carter is set against a plutonium breeder of the Clinch River type and wants to terminate the $2.2 billion project this year. The House has fought to keep Clinch River alive while the Senate has sought to find a compromise plan the president would agree to back.