Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007 | 7:11 a.m.
A sizable cut in next year's federal spending on Yucca Mountain, engineered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, puts the Energy Department's licensing schedule for the nuclear waste repository project in jeopardy.
This is outstanding news for Nevada, which has spent 20 years documenting the insurmountable safety problems of the proposal to bury the nation's high-level nuclear waste at the Yucca site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The entire Nevada congressional delegation strongly opposes the Yucca Mountain project. But it is Reid, occupying the most powerful seat in the Senate, who is most able to stand up to President Bush and Energy Department officials and deliver results.
Reid succeeded this week in stripping $104.5 million from the proposed project. Congress' year-end spending bill, which finances fiscal 2008 for every federal agency except the Pentagon, now contains just $390 million for the Energy Department's continuing work on Yucca Mountain.
Testifying before Congress last week, the Energy Department's point man on Yucca Mountain, Edward Sproat, said the president's budget request of nearly $500 million for the project is "supportive and vital."
Submitting an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next summer for a license to operate Yucca Mountain was among the Energy Department's objectives that Sproat listed as vital.
Now that the Yucca budget has been slashed, the application could be delayed indefinitely.
Delays benefit more than Nevada. Transporting waste to Yucca Mountain daily by truck and rail for decades would imperil communities across the country.
Every delay is vital. In recent years Congress has grown weary of the Yucca fight and has started examining safer possibilities, such as longer-term storage facilities at nuclear power plants where the waste is produced.
Adding to the value of delays is that every Democratic presidential candidate is on record as opposing the Yucca Mountain waste dump. It is probable that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress would see the project for what it is - a catastrophe in the waiting - and find an alternative.