WASHINGTON -- Chalk up another one for Nevada.
The state's two senators won the latest round Tuesday in the long, ongoing congressional struggle over whether to ship thousands of tons of nuclear waste to the Nevada desert for storage.
By a 64-35 vote, the Senate failed to override President Clinton's veto last month of legislation that called for sending waste now at power plants in 31 states to a central Nevada facility as soon as 2007. The vote was three senators short of the two-thirds needed.
''He's playing politics with this, not science,'' said Republican Senator Rod Grams, adding that it could force power plants in Minnesota to prematurely shut down. Minnesota's senators were split, Grams voting to override the veto and Democrat Paul Wellstone voting against the bill.
Supporters of the bill held out hope for another vote later this year, but Nevada's lawmakers said they're confident they will again prevail.
''We have 34 votes, we will always have 34 votes,'' vowed Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., referring to the minimum needed to sustain a presidential veto.
Congress has been trying for years to establish a temporary storage site for used reactor fuel now kept at 72 nuclear power plants, including two Northern States Power Co. plants in Minnesota. Scientists continue to study a permanent underground burial site for the waste at Yucca Mountain, also in Nevada, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
This time, both the Senate and House for the first time passed the legislation, but both votes were shy of being veto proof, prompting President Clinton on April 25 to block it.
Supporters of the bill argue that the government had promised to assume responsibility for the waste, but so far has failed to do so, leaving electric utilities in the lurch.
''We simply cannot allow (the nuclear industry) to strangle on its own waste without a viable alternative,'' Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, chief sponsor of the bill, said during four hours of debate Tuesday.
Murkowski urged his fellow senators ''to put this issue behind us for once and for all'' and accused the White House of refusing to address the issue of nuclear waste disposal.
Without a central storage facility, said Murkowski, the country would have ''80 mini-Yucca mountains'' that aren't designed for long-term storage of waste and will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.
But Reid and Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., maintained that the waste can be kept in dry casks at reactor sites for as long as 100 years, and by then other approaches to waste disposal could be developed.
Most people in Nevada are vehemently opposed to the proposed shipments.
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