Nevada leaders speak against plans to revive Yucca Mountain project

Sep 22, 2017
In The News

Draft legislation to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project brought almost all of Nevada’s congressional delegation together Wednesday to express opposition in Washington, D.C.

A group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives heard input on a draft of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, a measure that would help restart the project’s licensing process.

The draft is the result of six years of work, says Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

“Our goal here is to identify the right reforms to ensure we can fulfill the government’s obligation to dispose of our nation’s nuclear material,” Shimkus said.

The subcommittee heard opposition from Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, as well as Democratic Reps. Ruben Kihuen, Jacky Rosen and Dina Titus.

The three Democrats have sponsored the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which Titus said is the result of recommendations from the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. One of the recommendations was adopting a consent-based approach for picking repository sites.

Sens. Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, have sponsored a similar Senate measure.

Titus said she was surprised to see the concept in her legislation show up in the part of the draft legislation on interim storage sites.

“This draft bill should afford the same consent-based provisions to any permanent storage facility,” Titus said. “Yet it goes the opposite direction.”

Rosen questioned the science behind the project.

“The state has filed 218 contentions against the Department of Energy’s license application, challenging the adequacy of DOE’s environmental impact assessments,” Rosen said. “Numerous scientific studies have deemed Yucca Mountain unsafe based on the fact that the site is seismically active and sits above an aquifer.”

Heller noted in the hearing that the Yucca Mountain has been an issue in Nevada since 1987.

“Rather than attempting to force this project on the people of Nevada — a state that currently does not have any nuclear power plants of its own — it is clear taxpayers’ dollars would be better spent identifying viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in areas that are willing to house it,” he said.

Kihuen said at the hearing that the subcommittee members should imagine themselves in Nevada’s position.

“If this project was proposed in your district, near your family, and threatened your constituents’ lives and jobs, would you support it?,” he said. “If the answer is yes, then let’s find a place in your district. If the answer is no, as it surely is, you cannot in good conscience vote to send the country’s nuclear waste to my district. I urge the committee to vote no and keep this project dead and buried as it should be.”

Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen said in a statement released after Wednesday’s hearing that the testimony from the members of Nevada’s congressional delegation was disappointing. He said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be able to determine whether Yucca Mountain is a suitable site.

“Nye County, which is where Yucca Mountain is located, and eight other nearby Nevada counties, have continued to ask to have the science heard to see if Yucca Mountain is a secure site for the nation’s nuclear spent fuel,” Schinhofen said. “Today was a big step in that direction.”