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House approves Yucca Mountain bill; NV reps say no

Published: May. 9, 2018 at 10:03 PM PDT
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The Latest on legislation to revive the nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain (all times local):

11:26 a.m.

The House has approved an election-year bill to revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain despite opposition from home-state lawmakers.

Supporters say the bill approved Thursday would help solve a nuclear-waste storage problem that has festered for more than three decades. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants sit idle in 121 communities across 39 states.

The bill would direct the Energy Department to continue a licensing process for Yucca Mountain while moving forward with a separate plan for a temporary storage site in New Mexico or Texas.

The House approved the bill, 340-72. It now goes to the Senate, where Nevada's two senators have vowed to block it.

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12:32 a.m.

The House is moving to approve an election-year bill to revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain despite opposition from home-state lawmakers.

Supporters say a bill slated for a vote Thursday would help solve a nuclear-waste storage problem that has festered for more than three decades. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants sit idle in 121 communities across 39 states.

The bill would direct the Energy Department to continue a licensing process for Yucca Mountain while also moving forward with a separate plan for a temporary storage site in New Mexico or Texas.

It's past time for the federal government to "fulfill its obligation and permanently dispose of the spent nuclear fuel sitting in our states, alongside our lakes, rivers and roadways," said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the bill's sponsor.

"People are ready to do something rather than nothing," he added, predicting a strong bipartisan vote in favor of the bill.

President Donald Trump's administration has proposed reviving the long-stalled Yucca project 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, but the plan faces bipartisan opposition from the state's governor and congressional delegation.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has said the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to find a long-term solution to store spent fuel from its commercial nuclear fleet. Trump's budget proposes $120 million to revive the Yucca project.

"We can no longer kick the can down the road," Perry said last year.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican who is locked in a close race for re-election, blasted the upcoming vote as "an exercise in futility."

Heller vowed that, "Under my watch, I will not let one more hard-earned taxpayer dollar go toward this failed project - just as I have in the past. Yucca Mountain is dead, it is that simple."

Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, Heller's likely opponent in the general election, has filed an amendment that would delay any licensing activity for Yucca Mountain until the White House Office of Management and Budget conducts a study of the economic effects from alternative uses of the site.

"I'm using every tool at my disposal to put an end to this administration's reckless plans to turn Nevada into a dumping ground for highly radioactive nuclear waste," Rosen said in a statement.

She called Yucca a "failed project" and "complete waste of time and taxpayer money."

Nevada Democrats blame Heller for even allowing the vote, noting that he is a close friend of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who controls the House schedule.

"Sen. Heller tries to brag about standing between Washington and Yucca Mountain, but our weak and ineffective senator couldn't even dissuade one of his closest friends on Capitol Hill from preparing to ram this bill through the Republican-controlled House," said Sarah Abel, a spokeswoman for Nevada Democrats.

While the fight over Yucca resumes, lawmakers say they hope to make progress on a plan to temporarily house tons of spent fuel that have been piling up at nuclear reactors around the country. Private companies have proposed state-of-the-art, underground facilities in remote areas of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico to store nuclear waste for up to 40 years.

The nuclear industry has said temporary storage must be addressed since the licensing process for Yucca Mountain would take years under a best-case scenario.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

US Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV):

“The House bill to revive Yucca Mountain is dead on arrival. Yucca is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars to the tune of $15 billion. Now, the House has voted to waste another $82 billion. We will continue to make sure that any effort to restart this project fails. Scientists have deemed Yucca too dangerous for long term nuclear storage.

“Yucca threatens Southern Nevada’s water supply, disrupts training sites at Nellis Air Force Base, and sits on an active fault line. Las Vegas is one of our nation’s premier tourist destinations; putting a radioactive nuclear waste dump in its backyard ignores the voices of millions of Nevadans and tramples states’ rights.”

US Senator Dean Heller (R-NV): 

“The U.S. House of Representatives’ bipartisan approval of a bill to revive Yucca Mountain reinforces exactly what is at stake for the state of Nevada: without my leadership in the United States Senate, Yucca Mountain will get the green light. That’s because no one else can stop this; the House of Representatives has repeatedly attempted to bring nuclear waste to Nevada, but each time they’ve hit a brick wall only because I’ve stonewalled their action. Today’s stunt is no different – this bill is dead on arrival to the U.S. Senate. Plain and simple. Not only will I place a hold on the bill immediately, I will object to the motion to proceed and stop this proposal at every procedural turn. The U.S. House of Representatives can continue to exhaust themselves with these futile exercises, but it’s a waste of time and does nothing to solve the nation’s nuclear waste problem. Instead, Congress should consider the consent-based approach that I’ve been championing because it is the only viable path forward.”

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV): 

“Since I was elected to Congress, I have always said I do not believe Yucca Mountain should be a simple dumping site for our nation’s nuclear waste. Additionally, I have always been cognizant that policy makers should not consider Yucca Mountain to be a ‘dead’ issue, meaning Nevada’s congressional delegation should use this opportunity to dictate the terms of the repository under the best conditions for our state. That’s exactly what I chose to do this week by offering an amendment to H.R. 3053 that would have given Nevada a seat at the table to expand upon the mission of the repository.

“Specifically, my amendment would have: prioritized institutions in Nevada’s System of Higher Education for nuclear research and development, provided responsible solutions for Nevada through the designation of surface transportation corridors, cleaned up facilities in Nevada that remain and were originally contaminated by the federal government, and required the Department of Energy (DOE) to locate reprocessing facilities on site – a move which could create thousands of jobs and recycle spent fuel for further energy production.

“After consultation with the House Parliamentarian regarding the germaneness of a portion of my amendment, the House Rules Committee deemed my amendment unrelated to the underlying bill – thus denying its consideration on the House Floor. With all due respect to the Parliamentarian, I respectfully disagree. 

“As my colleagues made clear in Tuesday’s hearing, this legislation only pertains to Nevada and Yucca Mountain, so my amendment also included measures related to Nevada and Yucca Mountain. Designating one location as our nation’s permanent repository for nuclear waste seems to me like an important issue that warrants a comprehensive evaluation. As part of that evaluation, if we’re going to potentially transport nuclear waste across state lines by way of rail or surface transportation, then it’s probably appropriate and responsible to talk about transportation plans – certainly at the beginning stages of this project.

“Frankly, as presently structured, Nevada will not have a seat at the table moving forward on Yucca Mountain. The exclusion of my amendment, which included responsible proposals in the best interest of all Nevadans leads me back to where this discussion started: if I am only given a piece of legislation which designates Nevada as the nation’s nuclear land fill --- I’m a no! Accordingly, I’m a no.”