Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004 | 11:10 a.m.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry vowed for the first time Tuesday to veto any congressional attempts to loosen radiation standards on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
The promise came during a two-day sweep of the Las Vegas Valley in which Kerry continued to emphasize his opposition to the proposed nuclear waste repository. He also rebuffed criticism from Republicans that he voted in favor of some Yucca Mountain legislation.
"My votes show you that this is not an election campaign promise, and (Sen.) Harry Reid will tell you that," he said Tuesday night to a crowd of as many as 15,000 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"When I'm president of the United States, I'll tell you about Yucca Mountain: Not on my watch," Kerry said.
The promise to veto legislation that would change the Yucca Mountain radiation standard comes in the middle of a court battle over the repository.
Earlier this year a federal appeals court said the Environmental Protection Agency did not follow the law setting radiation standards. The court suggested a standard significantly higher, a standard, which if enforced, would be impossible to meet, Yucca foes say.
Congress, though, could change the standard by passing a law.
Kerry, who leaves town this afternoon to continue his cross country tour, got some of his biggest cheers in Las Vegas when he decried the Bush administration's position on Yucca Mountain.
He spent part of Tuesday morning talking to a select audience at Ralph Cadwallader Middle School about Yucca Mountain.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America deserves a president of the United States who believes in science," he said at the school in the far northwest area of town -- a school near a proposed route to transport nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.
"And it's not just the science of Yucca Mountain," he said. "It's the science of global warming. It's the science of stem cell research and the possibilities of the future. It's the science of clean air and clean water."
He called Yucca Mountain "a symbol of the recklessness and arrogance with which they are willing to proceed with respect to the safety issues and concerns of the American people."
Nuclear waste is safe now in temporary storage in nuclear power plants around the country, Kerry said.
"The dry cask storage and the water-filled pool storage that we have today at our nuclear sites is guardable," he said. "The Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission both find them safe."
He said he would charge the National Academy of Sciences to initiate a new scientific experiment, much like the Manhattan Project did to release the power of the atom in a bomb, Kerry said.
"We need a Manhattan Project that learns how to tame the negative consequences of the power of the atom," he said.
Kerry continued his bent on science, saying that exploring renewable energy will create jobs and lessen the country's reliance on oil.
"No young American in uniform should ever be held hostage to America's dependence on oil in the Middle East," he said.
Republicans argued that Kerry is pandering on the Yucca Mountain issue to win Nevada voters.
"His voting record until 1997 is one of supporting the repository and he voted to make Nevada the sole repository site for waste," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said in a statement. "Nevadans deserve more than efforts to scare and mislead them."
On Tuesday, Kerry called the votes "procedural," saying he stuck with Nevada on "significant" votes.
Also on Tuesday, a 1999 letter signed by Kerry and three other senators surfaced that asked the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for an "accelerated (nuclear) waste acceptance schedule."
The letter did not mention Yucca Mountain specifically -- it mentioned a "centralized, permanent facility" -- but Yucca Mountain was the only site at the time identified as a nuclear waste storage space.
Republicans argued that the letter showed Kerry "flip-flops."
Kerry spokesman Sean Smith said he had not yet seen the letter. But Kerry has made it clear, Smith said, that he would stop Yucca Mountain.
"The differences between John Kerry and George Bush on this issue couldn't be clearer," Smith said after the Kerry rally. "You hear it tonight: John Kerry is going to do everything in his power to stop Yucca Mountain."
"Any attempt to bring up issues from the past is just Republicans trying to muddy the waters on this."
This morning, Kerry was scheduled to speak with seniors at the Valley View Recreation Center in Henderson about rising prescription drug costs before leaving. This is the third time Kerry has visited Nevada this year.
Kerry, who is in the midst of his post-convention "Believe in America" tour, arrived Monday evening at the Bellagio and was scheduled to remain in Las Vegas until this afternoon.
His extended stay in Nevada, coupled with President Bush's visit scheduled for Thursday, highlight Nevada's position as a battleground state.
Democrats said they were encouraged by the thousands who turned out Tuesday evening for the rally.
"This place was packed to the rafters," said John Asmussen, a 63-year-old Las Vegas retiree.
Kerry touched on the economy -- as well as international relations, college loans, health care, war and more -- during his half-hour stump speech Tuesday evening.
"I tell you, we have to get this economy moving because there is nothing worse than an unemployed flying Elvis," he joked.
Kerry promised to give tax credits to companies that don't outsource jobs overseas, block efforts to privatize social security, lower health care premiums, and offer loan repayments to people who pledge several years to public sector work such as being a math or science teacher.