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June 2, 2015

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Memo from Carson City:

Coming election could signal shift in opposition to Yucca Mountain

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Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

For decades, Nevada’s federal and statewide elected officials have had a seemingly uniform mantra on Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste in the state: Hell no. End of conversation.

But November’s election could change that, both proponents of Yucca Mountain and those ardently opposed say. On the ballot this year are three Republican congressional candidates — two of whom are in tight races — open to some form of research or reprocessing at the site.

Republican Danny Tarkanian, running for Congressional District 4, said last week at a Las Vegas PBS debate that Yucca Mountain could be used for a reprocessing facility.

“We need to diversify our economy,” he said. “We’ve spent $12 billion to do the studies and the infrastructure at Yucca Mountain. ... I’ve suggested we turn it into a reprocessing facility of nuclear spent fuel. That would bring in $1 billion in revenue.”

Tarkanian’s statements drew sharp responses from environmental groups and his opponent.

“It’s really terrifying that we could have a voice in our congressional delegation that wants to bring nuclear waste to Nevada,” said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of PLAN Action, a progressive group that has opposed the site on environmental grounds.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, chairman of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, said Nevada’s elected officials from both parties — including Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Shelley Berkley and Gov. Brian Sandoval — have strongly opposed storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

On reprocessing, Bryan is wary.

“I don’t want that to be used as a trojan horse for us to accept nuclear waste,” he said. “I have some concerns about what I’m hearing.”

Horsford, the Democrat running against Tarkanian, said he would support using Yucca Mountain as a data storage site or for some other non-nuclear use.

“I strongly oppose shipping toxic material through our backyards, turning our state into the nuclear waste capital of the country,” he said in a statement.

But those who support using Yucca Mountain in some nuclear capacity see in Tarkanian, as well as in Rep. Mark Amodei of Northern Nevada and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Las Vegas, a willingness to talk about the site.

Heck, in an interview, said he had considered reprocessing at the site but found it would need too much water. He believes Yucca Mountain should be turned into a research facility.

“Nobody wants a repository,” he said. “But what are we going to do moving on? There’s so much at the site that could be an economic benefit to Nevada.”

Amodei, of Carson City, also has said he opposes the storage there. But, he said, the state needs to have conversations about what’s next.

“Once people get over the, ‘Oh my God, you said (Yucca)’s not dead,’ part, I think the focus goes to, 'OK, if it’s not dead, what is alive?'” Amodei said in April.

Yucca advocates applaud the shift.

Randi Thompson, executive director of Nevadans for Carbon-Free Energy, a collection of business leaders mostly in Reno, said the group supports using the site for research purposes.

But she said elected officials shut down when they hear the term Yucca Mountain.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “All we’re saying is, ‘Can’t we have a conversation? Can’t we look at the economic impact of this project?’ Having Danny at the table would be great.”

Democratic spokesman Zac Petkanas said having the three Republicans open to talking about Yucca Mountain in Nevada’s delegation “would begin the breakdown of Nevada’s previously bipartisan firewall that has prevented the dump at Yucca Mountain from becoming a reality.”

Indeed, Thompson acknowledged the most powerful force blocking Yucca Mountain is the Senate majority leader from Nevada.

“Until Harry Reid is no longer in power, it doesn’t matter how many congressmen we elect who are pro- or anti-nuclear reprocessing,” she said.

CORRECTION: Tarkanian said in the PBS debate that Yucca Mountain could be used for a reprocessing facility, not a repository. | (October 22, 2012)

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