Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has kept Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump closed for business, is facing the first solid threat on his iron grip as the new GOP majority moves to finally open the facility.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the new Republican chairman of the subcommittee that oversees spending on the facility, said that he is working up a plan that could unlock the gates of Yucca and pour in waste mostly from power plants before there is a major disaster from overloaded temporary dumps at the plants.

At a hearing this week, the Tennessee Republican took what many saw as a swipe at Reid and others who refuse to open Yucca, 100 miles outside of Las Vegas. "It's the politicians who are keeping Yucca Mountain shut," he said at a meeting of his appropriations subcommittee where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified Wednesday.

Workers at the Yucca Mountain Project begin their day at the tunnel's entrance, in this May 9, 2000 AP Photo.

Alexander said he plans to reintroduce legislation with Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., to create both temporary and permanent storage sites for nuclear waste in addition to Yucca Mountain. Such a move could end up winning Democratic support for opening Yucca if it is part of a much larger deal to expand nuclear dumps.

"The new sites we'd seek to establish through the legislation Senator Feinstein and I are reintroducing this year would not take the place of Yucca Mountain — we have more than enough waste to fill Yucca Mountain to its legal capacity — but rather would complement it," said Alexander.

At issue in his first hearing on the issue was the failure to open Yucca, designated to take the waste. Reid and Las Vegas oppose it and a top Reid aide said last month that Yucca is "dead" and that "the pro-Yucca fanatics" won't change it.

Alexander shrugged those comments off, and pressed the NRC to spend the billions utilities have already provided to get the facility open.

"Let me be clear: Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution. Federal law designates Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for used nuclear fuel," said Alexander.

He also slapped the administration for not seeking the needed funds to license Yucca. "Knowing that there are additional steps and they will cost money, why would you not request additional funds in your budget?"

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.