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August 21, 2019

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Nevada urges GOP to drop new push on nuclear waste dump

Yucca Mountain

Isaac Brekken / AP

In this April 13, 2006, file photo, an underground train at the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | 2:41 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Nevada lawmakers said Wednesday that senators should end a renewed effort to create a national nuclear-waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain because the ensuing political battle would only delay a permanent solution to the country's nuclear waste storage problem.

Pledging to ensure that "not an ounce of nuclear waste makes it to Yucca Mountain," Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, told lawmakers that continuing to push for that site over her state's objections would "waste decades and billions of taxpayer dollars."

Cortez Masto spoke at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as it reviewed legislation by the chairman, Sen. John Barrasso, aimed at reviving the stalled plan for a permanent nuclear waste site in Nevada.

"I would like to find bipartisan agreement to move legislation to get our nuclear waste program back on track," said Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Congress directed the Energy Department in 1982 to study whether the Nevada site was suitable as a repository. Plans called for burying tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel stored at U.S. power plants and research facilities. President George W. Bush gave the go-ahead for the Yucca dump in 2002.

Opposition from Nevada, including arguments that seismic activity and an Air Force test and training range in the area make Yucca Mountain unworkable for safe radioactive storage, shelved the effort.

“For over 30 years, many in Congress have been trying to force a repository facility on Nevada, despite the fact that Nevada does not generate or consume nuclear energy and that Yucca Mountain is a seismically and geologically unfit site to store this dangerous material” Cortez Masto said.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said the state "needs a voice in this process, period. This is nothing more than an attempt to take away Nevada’s state’s rights."

Cortez Masto and Rosen, along with all of Nevada's Democratic representatives, have introduced the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which would require the Department of Energy to obtain approval from a state’s governor as well as any impacted tribes and local governments before money could be spent on a nuclear waste repository.

"I ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of Nevadans," Cortez Masto said. "Imagine having nuclear waste sent to your communities without your input and without a fair process."

President Donald Trump's budgets have requested restarting the licensing process for the site.

Anthony O'Donnell of Maryland's Public Service Commission urged Congress to move forward, saying utility ratepayers have paid billions of additional dollars to deal with nuclear waste disposal since Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) to resolve the matter decades ago.

"A good case can be made that we are in a worse situation on spent nuclear fuel management and disposal than when the NWPA was passed," O'Donnell said.

Some Democrats and environmental groups argued it was time to find a way to make the permanent repository an attractive offer for some other state.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said supporters were perpetuating a "Yucca Mountain fantasy land." He spoke of communities around the country hosting temporary nuclear waste storage sites while federal officials sought a solution.

"Continuing to present that Yucca Mountain is a viable," he said, "only makes it more likely that it will be those communities left holding" the bill.

Las Vegas Sun reporter John Sadler contributed to this report.