Senator Harry Reid of Nevada won reelection yesterday in a race with major ramifications for nuclear power politics.
Reid's victory over Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle not only helped the Democrats retain their majority—allowing him to retain his position as Majority Leader but also lets the Obama Administration continue moving forward with its plan to abandon a proposed nuclear waste-disposal project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
One of Reid's big promises to Nevada voters was that this waste site would never be developed on his watch. The Obama Administration has cooperated closely with Reid in closing down the 20-year-old project. And despite efforts by Republicans to embarrass the Department of Energy (DOE) over its apparent deference to Reid in pulling its application for a license, DOE seems likely to stay the course. As a Reid spokesperson commented to the Las Vegas Review-Journal a few weeks before the election: "As long as Senator Reid is majority leader, there will not be a Yucca Mountain. …Yucca Mountain will be dead."
But being dead in the Senate doesn't mean Yucca Mountain can't be a lively topic in the House of Representatives, where Republicans won majority control for the next Congress that convenes in January. Republicans who have been critical of DOE and of Obama appointees to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are likely to press both agencies on exactly how the Yucca Mountain project was terminated. Already, the NRC inspector has been asked to look into communications between the NRC chair and Reid's office in the days before a decision last month to stop work on a safety review. The reports of the commission's Inspector General may also be a topic for House hearings.