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November 21, 2017

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Longtime Yucca Mountain booster in Congress makes his pitch in Nevada

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John Locher / AP

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., right, and Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., stand on the crest of Yucca Mountain during a congressional tour Thursday, April 9, 2015, near Mercury. Several members of Congress toured the proposed radioactive waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

An Illinois congressman who is pushing legislation tied to the proposed Yucca Mountain dump is presenting his point of view on the topic to a group of Northern Nevada business owners.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., is visiting the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce for a members-only event this morning. The lawmaker is sponsoring the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, legislation impacting issues related to Yucca Mountain but not actually tied to the project’s licensing or funding.

“Since most of us know one extreme viewpoint about Yucca Mountain and its proposed reopening, we thought it’d be interesting to present our members with Congressman Shimkus’ point of view,” said Ann Silver, chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce. “We have about 40 members attending and they’re free to disagree. We are not endorsing his position; we’re merely presenting it.”

The group reached out to Shimkus after hearing he might be making a trip to Nevada. Silver would not say who informed the group about Shimkus’ possible availability, and Shimkus’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Nevada’s official position has been opposed to Yucca Mountain, and the state has dedicated millions to fighting the project. Rep. Mark Amodei, whose district includes Reno and Sparks, is the only member of Nevada’s congressional delegation who has not signed onto legislation to require consent-based siting.

“In Northern Nevada, we haven’t had as much exposure to the issue of Yucca Mountain,” Silver said. “Obviously being 500 miles away, it’s not always on our radar, but it’s a statewide issue and we thought it’d be a great idea, based on our own assumption that we’ve always been opposed to it, to be a little more open-minded.”

The proposed nuclear waste dumpsite is in the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Shimkus’ home state of Illinois has a lion's share of the nation's spent fuel from nuclear reactors — it is temporarily stored at nuke power plants there.

Shimkus’ visit kicks off a series of chamber forums on policy, and Silver said the goal is to educate and inform members.

Nine rural Nevada counties, including the home of Yucca Mountain, have advocated for the licensing process to go forward. Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen has said the licensing process will allow the science behind the project to be heard.

Shimkus’ bill allows benefits agreements between the Department of Energy and state, local, or tribal governments that host sites in the disposal program, such as Nevada and Nye County in the case of Yucca Mountain. The legislation also lays out how much would be paid to these governments that participate in benefits agreements.

A recent Congressional Budget Office report on Shimkus’ bill estimates that DOE would make benefits payments to state and local governments in Nevada relating to Yucca Mountain totaling $15 million in 2018, increasing to $30 million per year from 2019 through 2021, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to decide whether to approve the licensing application.