Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Guest column:

Jacky Rosen: I refuse to allow GOP leaders to revive Yucca Mountain


John Locher / AP

Train tracks are seen through Yucca Mountain during a congressional tour Thursday, April 9, 2015, near Mercury.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Jacky Rosen

The misguided efforts of some members of Congress to revive Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository pose a serious threat to the health and safety of Nevadans, and our national security.

Let me be clear: Nevadans wholeheartedly oppose becoming the nation’s nuclear dumping ground, and I’m working each day alongside my colleagues in Nevada’s delegation to stop these new efforts.

For more than 30 years, the state of Nevada and local communities have rejected the Yucca Mountain project. In fact, the state has filed over 200 contentions against the Department of Energy’s license application, challenging the adequacy of the department’s environmental impact assessments.

Nevada’s full bipartisan delegation opposes this bill, as do Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Numerous scientific studies reinforce what we have known for decades — that Yucca Mountain is unsafe for storing nuclear waste. Not only is the site seismically active, but it also sits above an aquifer.

Additionally, the latest draft legislation introduced by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to revive Yucca Mountain would increase the amount of radioactive waste that would be shipped across the country by over 57%, traveling by rail and road right through the heart of Las Vegas. That would mean multiple shipments of 110,000 metric tons of nuclear waste across the country and straight to Nevada, every week for more than 50 years. It’s hard to imagine that shipping over 5,000 truck casks of high-level nuclear waste over 50 years wouldn’t result in at least one radiological release somewhere in our country.

Transportation accidents involving these shipments are severe, and they threaten the health and safety of tourists to our state and individuals who live along the proposed routes. If an accident were to occur, not only would there be a threat to human life, but it would cause billions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.

This week, I testified before the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee in opposition to Yucca Mountain and this proposed bill, and I asked my fellow Senate colleagues a simple question: Is this a risk they’d be willing to take in their respective states?

Yucca Mountain also represents a serious hindrance to our national security. The site is adjacent to the Nevada Test and Training Range, the largest air and ground military training space in the contiguous United States without interference from commercial aircraft. It is also home to 75% of stateside Air Force live munitions. Not only would waste transportation routes affect training, but the idea of storing our nation’s nuclear waste right next to a military bombing range is utter nonsense.

This new bill also proposes a radical change to our nation’s approach to nuclear waste management. The original Nuclear Waste Policy Act calls for two national repositories to ensure regional equity and to address technical redundancy. This bill would eliminate the current requirement for progress on a second repository — placing the full burden on Nevada, a state that does not even produce nuclear waste.

My Senate colleagues and I were elected to raise our voices on behalf of our constituents. This bill only weakens Nevada’s voice by moving forward on the Yucca Mountain project without Nevada’s consent. That is why I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, a bill supported by the entire Southern Nevada delegation that would prohibit the dumping of nuclear waste in any state without its consent.

Time and again, the people of Nevada have made it crystal clear that we do not want — nor have we ever wanted — to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Barrasso’s bill goes in the opposite direction and strips away the founding principle of state-self-determination and liberty, and puts us to a place where all states are not equal under the law.

It’s far past time that Congress stop ignoring the environmental, safety and security concerns of Nevadans who would be forced to store nuclear waste that they had no role in creating. It’s also past time for Republican leaders to cut their losses and find an actual solution to storing our country’s nuclear waste.

What we need are 21st century solutions to solving a 21st century problem, and we can repurpose what infrastructure exists at Yucca and create jobs for hardworking Nevadans, not put our lives and safety at risk, not to mention our state’s economy and environment.

That’s why I led the charge in introducing the Jobs, Not Waste Act, legislation to prohibit the Energy Department from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development or construction of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain until the director of the Office of Management and Budget submits a study to Congress on the economic benefits of alternative uses of the site. Such uses could include defense activities, a secure electronic data center, the development of renewable energy sources, or scientific research.

I’m working to garner more support from my colleagues on this common-sense, bipartisan legislation. I will continue to be a voice for Nevadans in the Senate, opposing Yucca Mountain and working to identify viable alternatives for long-term repositories in areas that are proven safe and whose communities consent to that storage.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., was elected to the U.S. Senate this past November after serving a term in the House of Representatives.