Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

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Funding to fight Yucca Mountain shrinks as dirt thrown on project


U.S. Department of Energy

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

Sun coverage

Some have declared dead the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, citing President Barack Obama zeroing out funding for it in the federal budget.

Opponents of the storage facility 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas better hope so, because federal dollars to fund Clark County’s opposition will soon be gone too.

Clark County, which has received $1.3 million to $1.9 million a year to educate, study and bring licensing challenges, will soon confront the likelihood of shutting down its Nuclear Waste Division.

Irene Navis, the division’s planning manager, said funding was cut by more than half, to $800,000, this year. By cutting consultants, she will be able to keep her staff of six and two Washington lawyers on for another year.

But after June 2012, the money will be gone.

Clark County, suffering budget troubles, is in no position to come up with an extra $800,000.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act provided money to certain counties because lawmakers knew the cost to defend against the nuclear dump would be high. Nine Nevada counties and one in California share $9 million to fund similar efforts.

The money will disappear at a time when the fate of the project is less than certain.

Although Obama’s budget has given some the confidence to declare it dead, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has submitted an alternate budget that includes money for the project. In addition, last week Republicans in Congress announced that they wanted to investigate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to see if its decision to scuttle the project was politically motivated.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not issued a final decision. The courts have not issued their decision about the notion that the (Yucca Mountain) application can be withdrawn by the Department of Energy,” Navis said. “We’re certainly in an awkward position.”

The Nevada delegation has spoken with a unified voice in opposition to a Yucca repository. And in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state has clout to keep the dump on hold indefinitely.

Still, David Cherry, spokesman for Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said “we should worry.”

“We need to be forever vigilant until we know this thing is ended, because someone will always want to put it back on the table,” he said. “Whenever it comes to discussions about nuclear waste, all roads lead back to Yucca Mountain.”

There are a number of scenarios that could bring the repository back to life.

If, for example, Obama loses in 2012, it would put a Republican in the White House who would likely be more sympathetic toward reviving the project.

“Nevada could still lose in court,” Cherry added. “We have weapons in our arsenal, including Reid as majority leader. But in Washington, money is everything. It doesn’t matter if something is authorized, if there’s no money.”

For Clark County’s part, Navis said, were Yucca Mountain to be revived as a site for burial of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, it would also mean funding would return to the county.

But for Navis, it would mean a return to a job she wants to end.

“We always knew we were working our way out of a job, and our consultants knew that too,” Navis said.

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