Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2019

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Proposed nuclear storage consent bill excludes Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain

John Locher/Associated Press file

Participants in a 2015 congressional tour of Yucca Mountain enter the project’s south portal. The site is near the Nevada town of Mercury, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

A proposed Senate bill requiring local and state consent for a nuclear waste repository excludes Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site from the process.

The Nuclear Waste Administration Act would require a state’s governor, affected tribes and local governments to OK any proposed site. But it would not apply to “any proceeding or any application for any license or permit pending,” which would exempt Yucca Mountain, said Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

“Specific provisions would exclude Nevada from the newly created consent-based siting process that would apply to all other potential repository host states,” Halstead said in a letter to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which held a hearing on the bill today.

Halstead said the bill has merit but needs to be fixed to “extend consent to Nevada.”

Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was designated as the nation’s sole nuclear waste storage site in the late 1980s, but the project was defunded in 2010 and has remained dormant.

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the federal government needs to provide direction “to move the Yucca Mountain application forward.”

“The failure of the federal government to implement the statutorily required used fuel management program has given the industry a black eye for far too long despite the fact that nuclear generation provides more than half of the nation’s carbon-free electricity,” she said in filed testimony.

While Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s congressional delegation oppose the Yucca Mountain site, officials in Nye County, which would benefit from jobs from the project, support restarting the licensing process.

Leo Blundo, a Nye commissioner and the county’s liaison for nuclear waste issues, wrote a letter to the Energy Committee expressing concern about a consent-based process for nuclear storage.

“To pass legislation requiring universal consent for a nuclear waste repository before proceeding simply means nothing will happen,” he said. “Consensus is nice, but nuclear waste is a national security issue and the nation needs a path forward on nuclear waste even if consent cannot be reached.”

Nuclear waste is now stored around the country, sometimes at shuttered reactor sites, which one expert said can be a financial drag on surrounding communities.

The closed sites require costly security and no longer provide jobs or add to the tax base, while the land cannot be reutilized until the fuel is removed, said John Wagner, associate lab director at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Nuclear, Science and Technology Directorate.