Nevada senators push back as Trump administration calls for Yucca Mountain funding

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Nuclear waste dumping at Yucca Mountain could happen after all, if President Trump gets his way. Nevada’s long-term nuclear waste project, halted by the Obama administration, could see new life. As Nevada lawmakers clamor in opposition, a nuclear industry expert says using Yucca makes sense.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) says there should be a consent based system for storing nuclear waste.

“The evidence is very strong that it is a safe site for disposal of nuclear waste,” said Jay Silberg, a nuclear law expert and partner at the law firm Pillsbury.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project, first started in 2002, but the Obama administration halted it in 2011, putting a stop to what would have been the country’s only long-term waste storage. The Obama White House said the Yucca project wasn’t working for legislative and regulatory reasons, and there was significant public opposition. But Silberg says the reason for nixing the project was political.

“The most that they would say is it was not workable,” said Silberg. “We understood that to mean that it was not favored by Senator Harry Reid and other people in the Nevada Congressional delegation.”

Silberg says Yucca Mountain is a safe, remote location for nuclear waste. He says there are safe ways to store it, and Nevadans have nothing to worry about.

“We have to have a national program, and we need something that looks forward so this spent fuel will permanently be disposed of in an area that is environmentally safe,” said Silberg.

“If we’re going to figure out what we do long term with nuclear waste, which we should, that there should be a consent-based approach,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

Cortez Masto says the federal government should not force nuclear waste disposal on states. So she and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced legislation that would require the governor of the host state, affected local governments, and affected Indian tribes to sign off first.

“I don’t think a state that has no nuclear projects within its bounds should have to deal with waste that comes from it (from other states),” said Heller.

The president’s desire to restart funding Yucca Mountain does not mean it will be in the final budget. Congress will make the ultimate decision.

Silberg and the senators mentioned that if this funding does restart, hearings would need to take place before activity continues at Yucca Mountain. That would take years.