Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2019

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Sun Editorial:

Trump’s proposed Yucca Mountain revival should be dead on arrival

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John Locher / AP

Congressmen, including Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., left, and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., second from left, tour Yucca Mountain, Thursday, April 9, 2015, near Mercury. Several members of Congress toured the proposed radioactive waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal hurts a lot of people both in the U.S. and abroad, but it contains one measure that could be absolutely devastating to Nevada.

That would be the $120 million that Trump directed toward the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In signaling that he would like to revive the detestable project, Trump has thrown a gut-punch at all Nevadans. Turning Yucca Mountain into a dump site is a terrible idea for a lot of reasons, but high on the list is that tons of high-level nuclear waste would be transported through the heart of Las Vegas to reach the facility. An accident or terrorist attack unleashing radiation would be cataclysmic for Las Vegas, not only for the health of local residents but for the economy.

And that’s not to mention the possibility of environmental damage posed by radiation leaking into groundwater at the mountain. Yucca is a monster, and Nevada lawmakers must do everything in their power to make sure Trump doesn’t unleash it.

You have to wonder what on earth prompted Trump and his gang to give oxygen to the project, which for years had been starved of funding.

Was it punishment for the state voting for Hillary Clinton over him by a significant margin in the 2016 election? Was it to throw a bone to Trump supporters like Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, who’s been trying for years to make Nevada the toxic dumping site for tons and tons of high-level nuclear waste?

Or is it just another example of Trump getting high on testosterone, as he’s done in other parts of his budget by boosting funding for the military by $52 billion while cutting foreign aid, housing assistance and other programs that help the disadvantaged?

Keep in mind, the Trump International Hotel lies within a zone where there would be measurable radiation from trains carrying nuclear material to Yucca, and where an accident would cause catastrophic damage. You’d think he’d at least want to make sure his paying customers weren’t in harm’s way, if not Nevadans and Americans at large.

Whatever Trump’s motivation, the result of his action is reckless and stupid. Waste transported to Yucca would go through 35 states to get here, putting millions of Americans potentially in harm’s way.

Closer to home, there’s no assurance that the facility’s design would prevent radioactive gases from venting into the air or radioactive waste from seeping into the groundwater. But meanwhile, scientists have developed dry casks that can safely contain irradiated material at reactor sites.

Plus, while $120 million may sound like a significant amount of money, it’s a drop in the bucket considering the amount of work that would be needed to reboot the project. That includes hiring staff and digging 40 miles of new tunnels.

What sounds better — keeping waste in dry casks at reactor sites while seeking a more permanent storage solution, or shipping a gargantuan amount of highly radioactive material through 35 states where it could become involved in an accident or an attack on its way to a facility where it could leak into the groundwater and cause an environmental catastrophe?

No contest.

There’s no compelling, scientifically sound reason to do anything at Yucca but leave it alone. Nevada’s congressional delegates, including Republican Sen. Dean Heller, have already pushed back against Trump on Yucca, which is good news.

“As has been stated in the past, Yucca is dead and this reckless proposal will not revive it,” Heller wrote to Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Washington needs to understand what Nevada has been saying for years: We will not be the nation’s nuclear waste dump. This project was ill-conceived from the beginning and has already flushed billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain. Members of both parties keep trying to revive this dead project via the budget and appropriations process, but I will continue to fight those efforts.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., joined Heller in drafting the letter.

“Trump’s attempt to revive Yucca Mountain is naïve and would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money” she said. “Recent reports estimate that licensing hearings alone would cost more than $1.6 billion dollars. Yucca Mountain is nothing more than a hole in the ground and will never be a viable solution for dealing with nuclear waste. Nevadans know this and they have been clear that they do not want a nuclear dumping site in their backyard. That is why the entire Nevada delegation and I have been and will continue to fight against Yucca Mountain from being resurrected and stop all attempts to revive this reckless project.”

Well put, senators. Trump’s full of dangerous ideas, and resurrecting Yucca is toward the top of the list. Nevada must resist him with all of its strength.

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