Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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Reid submits testimony against rail line to Yucca

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Sen. Harry Reid

The following is the text of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., to a Surface Transportation Board (STB) hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Application for Rail Construction and Operation – Caliente Rail Line in Lincoln, Nye and Esmeralda Counties. Reid believes the rail line should not be built and that the STB is the wrong entity to approve such construction in any case.

I want to thank Chairman Nottingham and the Board for agreeing to the Nevada congressional delegation’s request to hold this public hearing. I recognize that this is not the Board’s usual practice, but giving Nevadans a chance to explain their concerns in a public forum and for the record is the right decision. And, as you know, we have a number of concerns about shipping nuclear waste through our state and across the nation.

Nevadans and their leaders have not been reassured that Yucca Mountain will safely contain nuclear waste. We haven’t been reassured that transporting nuclear waste through our communities, over our grazing land, and past our schools and businesses can be done without incident. The Federal government has had more than two decades to reassure us, yet we still point to myriad safety and security flaws that have brought the Yucca project to its knees.

Yucca Mountain is not in Nevada’s interest, it is not in the public interest, and it is not in the country’s interest. Neither is the Caliente rail line that is being proposed exclusively to bring nuclear waste to dump in Nevada. That is why I have long worked to stop Yucca Mountain, and I am virtually certain that the project’s end is near.

This is the wrong time, and the STB is the wrong entity to approve 300 miles of new rail construction through Nevada for the Yucca Mountain project.

The Board claims jurisdiction over the proposed Caliente rail line, which lies entirely in Nevada, because DOE says it would allow general freight shipments along the railroad – for so called shared-use. The rail line would pass through no population or industrial centers in Nevada and it would terminate at Yucca Mountain.

Nevadans will not benefit from this rail line – shipping nuclear waste through our state will hurt our economy many more times than it will help.

Stating that this railroad is for general freight is misleading subterfuge. It is forum shopping of the worst kind.

The DOE is getting away with abusing the process because the STB is allowing them to do so. It is overwhelmingly clear that the Department’s sole goal in designating the proposed railroad for shared use is to remove its construction from the state’s regulatory authority. The DOE will do whatever it takes to minimize involvement by the State of Nevada’s officials.

Building a rail line for nuclear waste in Nevada will also have far reaching impacts on the national rail system that will impact the security and safety of millions of Americans. The DOE ignored these impacts in its application to the STB, and the Board appears to be ignoring them as well. The Caliente rail line is an elemental piece of DOE’s transportation plan for Yucca that would pave the way for shipping nuclear waste over 22,000 miles of railroad across 44 states and the District of Columbia en route to Nevada.

The nation-wide impacts of the Caliente rail line are clearly substantial, involving many railroads that fall under the STB’s jurisdiction. The rail line is a unique project with far-reaching national implications that STB may not have expected upon receipt of DOE’s application. Nevertheless, the Board should not disregard the complexity of transporting thousands of trainloads of nuclear waste tens of thousands of miles to Yucca Mountain in order to streamline DOE’s application for what will effectively be a single-use railroad for nuclear waste.

Transportation may be the Achilles heel of the Yucca Mountain project. It is extremely costly, affects millions of Americans and almost all of the states, is fraught with danger from terrorism, sabotage and accidents, and has potential to greatly impact states, cities, and local communities all across the nation.

DOE’s application before the STB puts the cart before the horse by seeking approval to build the Caliente rail line before basic safety and security issues have been worked out. Moreover, it asks for approval years before the actual Yucca Mountain project itself can be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Therefore, I strongly urge the Board to reject DOE’s application to build the Caliente rail line because it is incomplete and premature, and the Board should require DOE to make a better case for STB’s jurisdiction. The Board is under no legal, procedural, or practical pressure to make a decision on Caliente in the near future. DOE’s agenda is to push Yucca Mountain as far as possible before the end of the current Administration. DOE’s agenda and pressure should simply not be permitted to drive the STB’s review process.

Again, I appreciate the Chairman and the Board for holding this public hearing at the Nevada Delegation’s request.

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