By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. Democratic lawmaker on Friday slammed a Republican plan to visit the shuttered Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump site, calling the trip a "needless" expense.
Representative Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce committee, urged lawmakers to cancel the trip to the controversial site after the Energy Department said it would cost at least $200,000.
"At a time when the government is facing a shutdown over funding, it seems completely inappropriate to incur these needless expenses," Waxman said in a letter to John Shimkus, the head of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
Waxman's letter was the latest round in a political fight over Nevada's Yucca Mountain dump site, which was supposed to permanently house the nation's nuclear waste.
The Obama administration shelved the proposed dump in 2009, after years of opposition from Nevada residents, leaving the country without a site to store radioactive waste long term.
That decision has run into stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers, though, who say the administration has an obligation to move ahead with the site, which was approved by Congress.
With the Japanese nuclear crisis reigniting the debate over how the United States should handle its nuclear waste, Shimkus and Energy and Commerce committee chairman Fred Upton launched a probe late last month into the cancellation of the radioactive waste dump.
Shimkus also informed the Energy Department that committee members planned to tour the site.
Waxman said the department would have to spend at least $200,000 to transport lawmakers to the mountain and do the testing necessary to reopen the site after nearly two years.
The focus on spending comes as a battle over the budget in Congress threatened to shut down the U.S. government on Friday, with Democrats and Republicans struggling to strike a deal on spending cuts by midnight. (Editing by David Gregorio)