Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
For three decades, firm opposition to any sort of nuclear development for Yucca Mountain has been a rite of passage for any candidate seeking national political office representing Nevada.
But the past few congressional races, Republicans have been bending that rule.
Mark Amodei, candidate for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District seat, told the editorial board of the Las Vegas Sun on Monday that he would be happy to keep funding the development of the Yucca Mountain project through the Energy Department, with the hope of turning it into a bastion of nuclear research and reprocessing.
“I don’t celebrate every time somebody says it’s funded at zero,” Amodei said. “I support Joe Heck’s efforts. I think there are opportunities to do things out there.”
Amodei stresses that he’s against turning Yucca Mountain into a nuclear landfill, but doesn’t appear opposed to transporting radioactive waste to and from the site if it could be brought to rural Nevada for reprocessing.
The transport issue, for many Las Vegans, is as much a concern as the storage.
“Why can’t we do the R&D for reprocessing here? Why can’t we do a best practices center here? Why can’t we do nuclear safety here?” Amodei asked rhetorically. “I think there are opportunities to make that something other than a nuclear landfill.”
To date, Nevada hasn’t been an ideal candidate for reprocessing because the commercially viable processes rely too much on water. A gas-cooled process does exist, but isn’t widely available.
So, say this latest crop of politicians, let Nevada develop the way of the future.
Amodei wouldn’t be the first to try to walk this political tightrope: Heck has adopted a position of less resistance to Yucca Mountain since coming to Congress. But Heck’s argument — that the millions that have already been invested could bring thousands of jobs to Nevada — has earned mixed reviews. Heck was compelled enough to clear things up that he took a stand this summer, attempting to strip funding from the House’s Energy and Water appropriations bill because it included funding for Yucca Mountain, and when his effort failed, voting against the bill.
Yucca Mountain is one of the few programs that the bill, sponsored by Republican leaders in the House, didn’t cut. Amodei wants to hold on to that funding — and has even bigger plans for it than Heck down the line.
“If you fund it at zero, then you’re put in the position of going back and saying in these economic times of budgeting, ‘oh, by the way, now that we asked you to zero it out, we’d like you to fund other stuff.’ I just think it’s a heavier lift,” Amodei explained. “I think you need a nuclear safety best practices center, a training center ... if the Department of Energy wanted to justify its existence, we could do some work which would be worldwide in nature.”
That would represent a return to Nevada’s roots: The Nevada Test Site, also known as Area 51, was the center of the nuclear universe in the early years when nuclear development was geared toward military purposes. But Nevada’s seen nothing like that sort of spotlight when it comes to nuclear development for energy: The Silver State doesn’t have a single nuclear power plant, and currently boasts only one research facility at UNLV.
Nevada politicians who have opposed Yucca Mountain regularly in the past — that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley — remain opposed to it.