Bill would revive licensing of Yucca Mountain for nuke waste storage

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This morning four of Nevada’s Washington delegation members testified during an hours-long hearing on draft legislation that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage spent nuclear fuel. They all testified against it.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on the environment took no vote on the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, but a number of subcommittee members from states with nuclear power plants seemed more than willing to ship nuke waste to Nevada.

Yucca Mountain entrance (AP pix)

Sen. Dean Heller testified, “Rather than attempting to force this project on the people of Nevada – a state that currently does not have any nuclear power plants of its own – it is clear taxpayers’ dollars would be better spent identifying viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in areas that are willing to house it.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who presents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism, even though the bill says every effort would be made to avoid shipping the waste through Las Vegas. He added, “Many of you may not know it, but the area around Yucca Mountain is seismically active, and an aquifer runs beneath the proposed repository site. Additionally, placing a large amount of nuclear waste in an unsuitable site like Yucca Mountain could lead to numerous potential health issues. Substandard care or the mere passage of time could lead to leaking and leaching of nuclear material into the aquifer.”

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Despite concerns about shipping, one of the expert witnesses said there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

A Texas representative said the amount waste — 70,000 metric tons — is not so large, just the size of a football field stacked 10 feet high or enough to fill two congressional hearing rooms.

But the Nye County Commission had entered into the record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain:

The legislation, which would strengthen the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, addresses many of the concerns brought forth by the state and Nevada’s federal lawmakers, including a provision that specifically says that the waste shall avoid moving through Las Vegas.

Another change for Nevada is the acceptance of benefits, including funding and participation in mitigation discussions, shall not be considered consent and the State can get benefits tied to hosting the nuclear repository. Under the existing law, when the State vetoed the repository it gave up its right to benefits.

The bill also allows Nevada to be the site of an interim storage facility, a change from the original Act.

Yucca Mountain, which is located in Nye County, was designated as the permanent nuclear waste disposal site by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982. Nuclear waste continues to be stored temporarily at various locations around the country while the promise of Yucca Mountain has been delayed too long by political science. To date, $15 billion has been spent to prepare the site to accept nuclear waste.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.

The bill includes a “benefits section” envisioning dollars that could flow to the state and the local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft. “The acceptance or use of any of the benefits provided under a benefits agreement under this section by the State of Nevada shall not be considered to be an expression of consent, express or implied, to the siting of a repository in such State,” the draft states.

One states’ rights concern is that it removes Nevada’s right to deny water for the project.

But Nevadans should remember that lying down in front of a train greatly increases the chances of getting run over. The bill appears to open paths for negotiation of benefits the state and Nye County.