The House voted 413 to 7 yesterday to withhold funds for a proposed plutonium reprocessing plant at Rocky Flats, Colo., until the administration completes a comprehensive long-term plan for rehabilitating its nuclear weapons program.
The restrictions, contained in an amendment to the fiscal 1991 energy and water appropriations bill, were offered by Rep. David E. Skaggs (D-Colo.) and amount to a compromise with the administration. The Department of Energy has argued that the reprocessing plant will provide a medium-term solution to the problem of handling the nation's plutonium wastes while it wrestles with ways to handle them beyond the year 2010.
The main bill, the first appropriations measure to reach the floor this year, passed on a vote of 355 to 59 late yesterday, with strong support from dozens of districts that will benefit from its public works and science projects.
Earlier, Republicans made a futile effort to strip out provisions that establish Democratic-supported budget guidelines for all this year's appropriations bills. The guidelines, contained in a budget resolution passed earlier by the House but not the Senate, slash defense spending by $30 billion and reallocate about $16.1 billion to initiatives in child care, health, veterans services and other areas.
The two key procedural votes went against the Republicans 260 to 157 and 276 to 136, generally along party lines. Also defeated easily were a series of proposals to cut the bill across the board by 10.5 percent, 5 percent and finally 2 percent.
While many members sympathize with Colorado's difficulties with the Rocky Flats facility, many also worry that other states could be adversely affected if plutonium reprocessing remains blocked.
Before approving the Skaggs amendment, the House refused to kill $65 million in planning and design money for the plant, as proposed in an amendment offered by Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.). The vote was 278 to 142.
The new plant would recover plutonium from nuclear waste and scrap, as well as from decommissioned nuclear weapons. It would replace an aging plant where reprocessing activities have been halted, and the administration says it would sharply reduce radiation exposure of plutonium workers.
But Skaggs and Schroeder argued that it made no sense to proceed until the administration has completed a master plan for modernizing nuclear activities. DOE officials said this plan, begun under pressure from environmental groups, will be ready early next year.
On a voice vote, the House also passed an amendment offered by Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) adding $1 million to a small program aimed at reducing U.S. exports of bomb-grade enriched uranium that could fall into terrorists' hands. It reprocesses highly enriched uranium into lower-grade material that can still be used in research reactors in several European countries, but cannot be used for bombs. The Scheuer amendment would also offer technical assistance to foreign importers in converting reactors to use the lower-grade fuel.
Staff writer Thomas W. Lippman contributed to this report.