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Nevadas U.S. Senators face uphill battle in repurposing Yucca Mountain


(The Center Square) – Nevada’s U.S. senators have introduced a bill to ban Yucca Mountain from being a nuclear waste repository. However, the legislators may have an uphill battle getting support from politicians and the public.

The Jobs, Not Waste Act from Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen would repeal the law that led to the designation of Yucca Mountain and examine what, if any, economic benefits are possible for the area. Examples include a scientific research facility, a data center, or a command facility for national defense activities.

In a press release, Sen. Cortez Masto said the people of her state do not want nuclear waste in their backyards. She added that any attempt to restart the failed Yucca Mountain project is unacceptable.

“Nevada has made it abundantly clear that we will not be the nation’s dumping ground for nuclear waste,” added Rosen. “I’ve been fighting alongside colleagues on both sides of the aisle for years to prevent Yucca Mountain from moving forward.”

In April, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., emphasized that Nevada’s delegation had been stalling the agreed upon project for years.

“By all accounts, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which governs both spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste generally, is long overdue to be implemented to address the needs of today’s industry,” she said. “This opposition is not safety-related or technical. It’s political.”

Former Representative John Shimkus, R-Ill., told The Center Square that one really needs to have bipartisan introduction here to move anything legislatively.

“That is legislation that, as we say, is more show than go,” said Shimkus, who represented Illinois from 1997 to 2021.

Even if Republican legislators were attached to the bill, it still may not be an issue for most voters as in November. Recent polling from The New York Times and Siena College, which finds former President Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden in Nevada and other battleground states, finds the economy to be the biggest issue for Nevadans this November. The terms nuclear energy, waste, or pollution are not mentioned. Still, Shimkus said there is interest and need for nuclear energy.

“Southern Power just opened up their fourth nuclear power plant, Vogtle, and it’s totally online,” said Shimkus. “So, there is a resurgence of nuclear power, which would tell you that there would be a continuing need to address nuclear waste.”

Based on that, Shimkus said Yucca Mountain is a prime location.

“I’ve probably said it a hundred times,” said Shimkus. “Underneath a mountain in a desert on government land 90 miles from a major city is probably the best place in the world to put it.”

Yucca Mountain was recommended and approved as a radioactive waste repository in 1986. On his website, University of North Carolina Professor Frank R. Baumgartner wrote that the “unique combination of rock characteristics and the deep water table lead many scientists to think that the site appears capable of isolating the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

“Everybody knows the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer,” said Shimkus. “That WWII residual material going way back to that time is supposed to be in Yucca Mountain, and it’s not.”

Shimkus said it is in states such as South Carolina and Tennessee.

“Yucca Mountain was passed under the Reagan administration for a two-fold mission,” said Shimkus. “A promise to take nuclear waste after it was used in nuclear power and to store our nuclear waste from our weapons production.”