Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 2 a.m.
If there’s any good news in President Donald Trump’s proposed funding to resurrect the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, it’s that the proposal seems likely to be a nonstarter in Congress.
The bad news is that it once again demonstrates that the Trump administration doesn’t have Nevadans’ best interests in mind on this and other matters.
This isn’t Trump’s first budget to contain funding for Yucca Mountain — he requested $120 million in each of his first two spending plans. Throw in the government’s secret shipment of plutonium to Nevada last year, and a pattern clearly emerges of an administration dumping on our state.
Trump being Trump, of course, his words and actions haven’t matched on Yucca Mountain. Yes, he told a Reno TV station this past October that “you should do things where people want them to happen” and therefore he was “very inclined” to oppose the facility.
But five months later, here we go again with a budget proposal going to Congress, this time for a total of $157 million to restart the licensing process for the facility. Of that, $116 million would go to the Department of Energy and $39 million would go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Let’s make something abundantly clear: To borrow from Trump’s vernacular, Nevada is not a place where the majority of people want a dump for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.
Our congressional and state leaders are lock-step in their opposition to it. Late last year, Nevadans in Congress blocked a last-ditch attempt by out-of-state Yucca supporters to slide funding for it into a spending bill. Then, our delegation followed up this month with a bill to permanently block any attempts to resurrect the project by outsiders who want Nevada to choke on their nuclear waste.
Closer to home, Gov. Steve Sisolak pledged during his inauguration speech that “not one ounce” of waste would reach Yucca under his watch, and more recently reacted to Trump’s budget proposal by calling it an attempt to “shove even more unwanted toxic material down our throats.”
That’s exactly right, and Nevada’s lawmakers are to be commended for keeping up the fight against the project.
Yucca is a catastrophe waiting to happen, a scientifically unproven monstrosity that could emit radiation into the atmosphere through fissures or allow waste to seep into groundwater through leaks. The more than 70,000 metric tons of material that would be stored in the mountain would remain radioactive for thousands of years and is so deadly that in just over a minute, it could unleash a lethal dose of radiation to someone standing near it without shielding.
Then there’s the transportation issue. Not only would the routes take it through the heart of Las Vegas — one rail line literally parallels the Strip just to the west — but the waste would go across 22,000 miles and railways, and 7,000 miles of highways coast to coast. As Nevada Rep. Dina Titus has pointed out, it would travel through a whopping 329 congressional districts.
A serious accident or a terrorist attack could cause unspeakable harm. Southern Nevadans would not only face the risk of a health disaster but the decimation of our economy.
Considering that Trump licensed his name to a resort practically within spitting distance of the train tracks that would haul waste through Las Vegas, you’d think he might have a different take on the project. But Trump also has a history of punishing states where voters haven’t supported him, which was definitely the case in Nevada both in 2016 and when voters rejected Republican Sen. Dean Heller and others endorsed by Trump in 2018.
So as long as he’s in office, Nevadans will have to watch him closely.
Meanwhile, however, we can take some comfort in knowing that the Yucca funding is among many budgeting requests from the White House that Congress stands to reject.
With Democrats coming off big wins this past November in Nevada wanting to maintain strength here, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t likely to support a project that’s so reviled in the state. Winning Nevada will be critical for Democrats’ hopes of unseating Trump in 2020 — hence the string of visits that presidential hopefuls are making to the state — which only gives party members more incentive not to revive the repository.
So Yucca sits frozen for now, a monument to unrealistic ideas and a symbol of a president who can’t be trusted to protect Nevadans. As is also the case with Trump’s damaging moves on environmental protection, immigration policy and other areas that directly affect our state, voters here won’t forget his funding requests for Yucca as we inch closer to 2020.