Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today expressed confidence in Hillary Clinton's opposition to burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain after a prominent Nevada columnist suggested the Democratic presidential front-runner may have left herself some wiggle room on the issue.
Writing yesterday in the Reno Gazette-Journal, veteran journalist Jon Ralston noted that Clinton earlier this year gave a less-than-definitive answer to his question on whether Yucca Mountain was "off the table."
"Well, it is off the table based on what I know right now," Clinton responded, rejecting Ralston's follow-up contention that she was equivocating.
"No, I'm not because I was against it based on the research that was made available," she responded, according to Ralston's column. "We do need to figure out what we're going to do with nuclear waste and therefore I would look to leaders who are independent of certain industry pressures or certain political or geographic pressures."
Clinton later added: "I think science is always changing. But based on what I know, where it is, the geology of where it is, it's off the table."
Ralston, who has covered Reid since his first Senate race, was dubious.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think Madame Secretary was opening the door a crack to changing her previous position," he wrote, while detailing "some money tied to pro-Yucca groups" among Clinton's campaign donations.
But Reid told E&ENews PM this afternoon he has "no problem at all" with Clinton on Yucca Mountain.
"Bill Clinton's the one that stopped it in the first place, he and Al Gore," Reid said, referring to the former president's 2000 veto of legislation that would have allowed nuclear waste to start being moved to Yucca, which at the time had not yet been formally approved. "So I'm not worried at all."
Yucca Mountain has become a higher-profile issue since Nevada in 2008 moved to a caucus system that makes it the third state to select presidential nominees. As a result, candidates have increasingly tiptoed around the issue or, in the case of Democrats, outright opposed it, as Hillary Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama campaigned against it as they battled for the nomination.
Once elected, President Obama made good on his campaign pledge to end the project.
But court rulings and strong desire in Congress for storing waste at the site, which lies about 90 miles from Las Vegas, have Yucca backers angling to keep it alive.
Yucca supporters now appear to be running out the clock on Reid's tenure, which ends with his retirement at the end of next year.
Earlier this year, the Nuclear Energy Institute shifted gears on Yucca, declaring that it wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a final decision on the project before any spent fuel is moved to temporary storage sites. The change upended years of legislative work by a small bipartisan group of senators who have been trying to craft a new nuclear waste disposal framework (E&ENews PM, July 31).
And with Reid heading for the exits, some GOP presidential contenders are open to storing waste at Yucca, which, as Ralston noted, include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
In an email, Clinton's Nevada spokesman reiterated her position that Yucca is "off the table."
"Based on the science and geology of Yucca Mountain, Nevadans oppose designating it a nuclear waste site, and so does Hillary," wrote the spokesman, Tim Hogan.
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