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Heller Pledges Yucca Mountain Will Stay Dead Despite Leaving Energy Committee

The Yucca Mountain fight continues as committee assignments for the 114th Congress raise questions about what's next for the issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., pledged that a proposal to build a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain would remain dead, even though he is stepping away from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to join the Finance Committee.  

"I don’t think it changes the dynamics,” Heller said of his new committee assignment for the 114th Congress.  

The Nevada congressional delegation, led by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been effective using every means available, including the power of the purse and regulatory agencies , to prevent the project from resurfacing in the state.  

For example, there was no funding for it in the $1.1 trillion spending package to keep most of the government funded through the end of the fiscal year, also known as the "cromnibus."  

Heller expects the blockade against Yucca to continue, despite efforts from other members to revitalize the project, and pledged, " We are still going to fight this thing tooth and nail.” But Yucca advocate Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will be a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee next year and plans to urge the panel to move the project along. “I think we should open Yucca Mountain and I think we should move ahead with new repositories both long-term and short-term,” Alexander said. “If we took all of the nuclear waste that's now stored at the 100 different sites around the country and took it to Yucca Mountain it would nearly fill it up. So we need to move ahead on two tracks: one is open Yucca Mountain and the other is [to] begin to build a new repository and new interim storage facilities.”  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is expected to be chairman of the committee, believes the discussion is broader than just the Yucca issue and told CQ Roll Call she hopes “to try to ... really come up with a consensus position and work to really advance the discussion.”  

Heller’s move also comes after Rep.-elect Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., said he supports the Yucca Mountain project, if it is done safely. That's a major departure from the rest of the delegation, but Heller said that doesn't change things. “Not as far as I'm concerned. And I'm certainly sure it doesn’t change the dynamics as far as Harry is concerned,” Heller said. “Cresent just comes in with a different view of the world on this particular issue. [But] that's not going to change my position and Harry and I will continue to fight this.” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is up for re-election in 2016, also has been pushing for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume the Yucca licensing process.  

“It is imperative that the Yucca Mountain licensing application is thoroughly considered by the NRC,” Murray said in a letter sent to the NRC last month. She is a member of Senate Democratic leadership, but is at odds with Reid on this issue.  

That’s because Washington state is home to the Hanford site, which includes nine former nuclear reactors and their associated processing facilities. The site's works have generated billions of gallons of liquid waste and millions of tons of solid waste, waste that was expected to go to Yucca.  

   

Related: A Lame-Duck Fight Over Yucca Mountain Heller, Reid Trade Barbs Over Yucca Mountain Amid ‘Nuclear Option’ Fallout The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.