Politics

GOP Lawmakers Pushing for Nuclear Waste Facility in Nevada

Yucca Mountain repository project halted by Obama administration.

A “no trespassing” sign warns people to stay away from a proposed nuclear waste dump site at  Yucca Mountain in Nevada. (David McNew/Getty Images file photo)

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have released a discussion draft for a bill that would create incentives to put the shuttered Yucca Mountain repository on track to become the nation’s main nuclear waste disposal site.

The draft text to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is the first of many steps lawmakers must take to bring the project online again after the Trump administration expressed a willingness to re-engage on the issue following the project’s halt by the Obama administration in 2010.

The measure would authorize the Department of Energy to use funds from a set-aside Treasury account meant for nuclear waste disposal to pay the state of Nevada for hosting the site as well as to fund infrastructure improvements surrounding the site about 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The bill would also authorize the Energy Department to build interim storage facilities to consolidate the waste from reactors that have already closed while licensing for Yucca Mountain is finalized — a process that will have to overcome challenges from Nevada and environmental groups.

Energy and Commerce’s Environment Subcommittee will hear testimony of the draft text on April 26, the committee announced last week.

“This proposal was thoughtfully developed through an extensive record of hearings and other oversight over the past six years to identify what may be needed to strengthen the Nuclear Waste Policy Act,” Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., said in a joint statement. “Now it is time to get our nation’s nuclear waste management policy back on track through consideration of this legislative proposal.”

The Obama administration moved away from Yucca Mountain in 2010 following harsh local opposition to the site, led in part by Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who has since retired. In its place, the DOE has worked to advance an interim storage strategy at multiple sites with consent from local authorities as it works out a long-term solution.

Newly installed Energy Secretary Rick Perry, however, has embraced Yucca Mountain. He visited the facility last month, and the Trump administration’s “skinny budget,” released in March, set aside $120 million for Yucca Mountain-related activities.

But local opposition to the project remains as fervent as ever. Nevada Sens. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, recently reiterated their opposition to any authorizing or spending bill that advances the project.

In a statement last week, Cortez Masto said she and the state of Nevada will continue to “do everything we can to stop the revival of Yucca Mountain and to make sure this ill-conceived project will never see the light of day.”

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