Las Vegas Sun

September 5, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Congress pursues a dangerous path in trying to revive Yucca Mountain

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pushed through a bill Friday that would provide $45 million to move ahead with the plan to turn Nevada into a dump for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.

The issue has become an obsession for the nuclear industry’s supporters in Congress, who have been angered by President Barack Obama’s correct assessment that the plan is unworkable. Obama stopped work on the project, and a blue-ribbon commission is exploring other options for the nation’s nuclear waste.

But that hasn’t stopped the industry’s supporters in Congress. The energy and water appropriations bill that passed Friday would mandate that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission restart its review of the George W. Bush administration’s application to build the dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Thankfully, the bill has little chance of moving beyond the House. Nevada’s members of Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have diligently worked together for years to try to end a project that has been marked by flawed science and poor plans, and they have successfully cut millions of dollars proposed for Yucca Mountain. For that matter, the effort has been so successful that the project is on the verge of its demise.

An outspoken opponent of Yucca Mountain, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against the bill Friday, and she was joined by freshman Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. It was good to see Heck vote against the bill because his views on nuclear waste haven’t always been clear or consistent. For example, he says geological disposal of nuclear waste, as is proposed at Yucca Mountain, is an old 20th-century technology, but he doesn’t seem to be unalterably opposed to bringing nuclear waste here, as evidenced by his statements last year during the campaign that the NRC’s review should “go to completion.”

Furthermore, Heck has proposed making Yucca Mountain a center for research and development of recycling nuclear waste. On Wednesday, Heck introduced an amendment to the bill that would have diverted, but not cut, much of the money for Yucca Mountain and put it into research and development of nuclear waste. His amendment failed.

As Karoun Demirjian reported Friday on the Las Vegas Sun’s website, Heck objected to the spending bill because it would cut funding for renewable energy projects that could be built in Nevada and because it “continues funding a project that is unpopular and has long been considered dead, Yucca Mountain, despite other feasible options.”

That’s good to hear given his previous statements and actions.

As we have pointed out, the plan for Yucca Mountain is dangerous and incredibly expensive, with an estimated cost of $100 billion. It would require years of transporting high-level waste across the country, past most of the nation’s population. Federal officials would then shove it in Yucca Mountain — a porous, volcanic ridge that lies in an area prone to earthquakes.

The clear answer is that the waste should be kept where it is now — at nuclear reactor sites. It can be kept safely, and more cheaply, for decades in concrete-and-steel containers called dry casks. In the meantime, scientists can find safe ways to dispose of it.

Nevadans have said time and again they don’t want nuclear waste and they don’t want the federal government tying to shove it down their throats.

Congress should be done with this project once and for all.

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