and the environment.
After researching and debating for 20 years, the U.S. government this week decided to support a plan to store tons of radioactive waste in a Nevada mountain.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60-to-39 to support President Bush's recommendation for a single resting place for nuclear waste. The House approved the project 306-117 on May 8.
Nevada's only hope of stopping the project now is to take the federal government to court.
The nuclear waste issue
If you live in one of the 38 states with a nuclear power plant, chances are high the energy you use to power your computer or turn on your lights may come from the nucleus (the center) of an atom.
Nuclear power releases less air pollution than burning coal or oil but the waste left by producing nuclear power is highly dangerous and takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay.
For decades, the United States has tried to figure out a way to dispose of nuclear waste so that it doesn't pose a risk to the public.
Currently, more than 40,000 tons of the stuff -- a solid, ceramic-like material -- is stored at 103 nuclear power plants in 31 states. The amount increases by 2,000 tons every year.
In February, the Bush administration officially recommended that the United States bury its nuclear waste inside a Nevada mountain called Yucca Mountain.
However, environmentalists, several lawmakers and almost everyone in Nevada say that is a bad idea.
The Bush administration's proposal is to store all U.S. nuclear waste in a five-mile tunnel carved into the Nevada mountain. It is located 90 miles outside the casinos and bright lights of Las Vegas, and is in a remote area filled with rocky hills and valleys.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the Yucca Mountain site is a "scientifically sound and suitable" place to bury 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.
The Energy Department began the task of finding somewhere to bury the waste in 1982. The goal was to find a storage facility that will not leak for 10,000 years.
In the 1980s, the Energy Department looked at three potential sites in Nevada, Washington state and Texas. All but Yucca Mountain were eliminated by Congress in 1987.
The Bush administration says nuclear waste stored in heavy concrete containers deep in the mountain will not pose a threat to nearby residents.
However, environmentalists have raised concerns about the possibility of earthquakes or even a volcanic eruption that might cause the contamination of nearby ground water supplies.
Bush administration officials say one central site meets "compelling national interests" by consolidating nuclear waste to enhance protection against terrorists.
Is Yucca Mountain the answer?
Nevada lawmakers argue that since it has no nuclear power plants, it should not have to store the potentially dangerous waste material.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid tried to convince senators that a single national storage site will mean thousands of trucks and trains will carry hazardous materials through heavily populated areas in 45 states.
Reid's argument, however, did not convince many lawmakers who would like to get rid of the waste that is currently piling up in their own states. Under the current plan, nuclear waste could be stored in the mountain as early as 2010.
However, if Nevada is able to block the plan by winning lawsuits against the Department of Energy, Congress will have to start from scratch in its search for a way to deal with the nuclear waste issue.
-By Leah Clapman, NewsHour Extra
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