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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Utah Sen. Bob Bennett on Tuesday reversed his support for a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, saying it was a mistake and that the nation needs to find another solution.
"I'm now making it clear that my support for Yucca Mountain, however well intended it was at the time, in my opinion does no longer hold in the situation in which we find ourselves," Bennett said in a speech on the Senate floor. "We need to move forward in some other direction."
Bennett has indicated in the past that he was backing off his support for the permanent storage site. However, his statement marks a significant turn in the ongoing rift between Nevada and Utah over Yucca Mountain, which Nevada's politicians have long opposed.
The two states are linked over the issue. A proposed facility on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation that would temporarily store waste until Yucca opens just received approval for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Utah lawmakers now are trying to block the site, 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, by designating wilderness around it.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, has been trying to drum up support for legislation that would leave nuclear waste on site where it is generated.
Utah's officials have supported Yucca Mountain if it meant that the temporary site, which would be run by a group of utilities called Private Fuel Storage, would never open. They say it is too dangerous.
Bennett said Tuesday that legal and political challenges to Yucca now make it look like the facility might never open, meaning the Goshute reservation could become a permanent storage site.
Congress and President Bush should look at alternatives, including storing the waste in place and eventually reprocessing it, he said.
"To those ... who have earned the right to say to the rest of us, 'I told you so,' I say I will be happy to join with you, too, in seeing how we can think this thing through and get the best solution for our nation," Bennett said.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch did not join Bennett in backing down from his support for Yucca Mountain.
Instead, Hatch's office released a statement that said Hatch supports the alternatives Bennett suggested and plans to introduce them in a bill this week.
"I have very important meetings coming up concerning the PFS project, and it is important that I keep working on all options to protect our state," he said.
Reid said he thinks the momentum is shifting on the issue.
"The safest, most reasonable and effective solution is to store nuclear waste where it is already being produced," he said in a statement. "I look forward to joining forces with Senator Bennett as we work to protect our states, the West and the nation."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)