1998 Scorecard Vote
In 1987, Congress voted to create a permanent repository for "high-level nuclear waste" (irradiated fuel) from nuclear power plants, to be located at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. For the past 10 years, the Department of Energy has been assessing whether Yucca Mountain is a suitable permanent waste site and is expected to make a final decision in 2001. The site comes with serious unresolved technical problems. An estimated 33 earthquake faults lie in Yucca Mountain's vicinity. It is widely accepted that the area's groundwater will be contaminated, with waste possibly migrating to the surface in less than 1,000 years. In the meantime, with on-site storage areas at nuclear power plants reaching full capacity, the nuclear power industry is arguing for a federal interim storage facility until a permanent repository is completed.
S. 104, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997, sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK), would establish an above-ground "interim" nuclear waste dump near the proposed permanent repository at Yucca Mountain. The facility, to be opened in 2003, would accept a total of 40,000 metric tons of irradiated fuel that would be transported through 43 states. S. 104 would also severely weaken environmental standards for nuclear waste disposal, weaken allowable radiation exposure standards at the site, and put dangerous radioactive waste on the nation's roads and rails without adequate safety standards. The establishment of a centralized "interim" nuclear waste storage site is likely to bias the decision to site the permanent repository in Nevada, regardless of the scientific findings about Yucca Mountain.
On April 15, 1997, the Senate passed S. 104, 65 - 34 (1997 LCV Scorecard, Senate vote 6). The House passed a similar bill, H.R. 1270, 307 - 120 (1997 LCV Scorecard, House vote 13). Ordinarily, a House-Senate conference committee would resolve differences between the bills and the resulting conference report would be taken up by both Houses for passage. However, bill supporters were concerned that there were too many procedural opportunities to delay votes on the Senate floor on a conference report. These supporters then tried to bring the House bill to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) interrupted deliberations on the tobacco bill to take up H.R. 1270. He also filed a cloture petition to cut off the likely filibuster. (Senate debate on an issue can continue indefinitely without a final vote on passage unless 60 senators vote to invoke "cloture" to cut off debate.) On June 2, 1998, the cloture petition failed, 56 - 39, and the bill was killed for the 105th Congress. NO is the pro-environment vote.