Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Yucca Mountain Project - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Yucca Mountain Project

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This week lawmakers in Washington are discussing a possible revival of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository project. So we spoke with experts on both sides of the argument about the pros and cons of Yucca Mountain for Nevada.

A big part of the decades-long debate is about safety. But it's also about money and politics.

Yucca Mountain was first singled out to be the nation's permanent nuclear waste repository in the 1980s. It was not a popular decision in Nevada.

"Nevada was the politically weakest state in 1987," the Executive Director of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects, Bob Halstead, said. "And there's absolutely no doubt in my mind, having been part of the political process that it was a political decision."

There was a handful of sites around the US chosen as possible places to permanently store the nation's spent nuclear fuel. Yucca was the only one actually explored. Halstead argues that it wasn't the best choice, but rather had the least amount of political opposition.

Fast forward 30 years, and it's still the nation's only explored option. To the pro-Yucca folks, this is a big point in its favor.

"It's a great garage for spent nuclear fuel," US Nuclear Energy Foundation board adviser Bruce Marlow said. "Are there other great garages? I'm sure there are."

But this one has a start. Those pushing for the program to move forward say the federal government has already invested $15 billion into it. And they see it as a potential cash cow for Nevada.

"If Nevada were smart, they'd figure out a way to have the federal government give them money," Marlow said. "We are helping you, so you help us. The economic benefit could be billions of dollars."

Opponents argue that it's not worth the risk. They cite safety issues with the transportation and storage of the spent fuel.

"What makes Yucca Mountain unlike any of the other repositories is you can't rely on the geology to keep the waste out of the groundwater," Halstead said.

The government plan would install titanium drip shields in the mountain to prevent any potential leaks. Opponents say they don't trust that the government will follow through with that promise, and even if it does, they say accidents could still happen.

Yucca advocates argue that that risk isn't an issue to begin with, since the fuel is stored in dry casks.

"They don't leak," Marlow said. "There's no water in them. There's nothing to leak."    

And then there's the issue of transportation. The fuel would have to be shipped from more than 70 different sites around the country. Most, around 90 percent, would go by train, partly through Las Vegas or the Reno-Sparks area. Opponents say that puts Nevadans at risk in case of a crash.

But Marlow points to a safety test done in the 1970s. Researchers put the fuel casks through truck crashes, train crashes, and even immersed them in burning jet fuel. In all three scenarios, the internal material was not compromised. Marlow says the technology has only improved since then.

Still, it remains a heated debate in the Silver State and in Washington, DC. A bill to revive the project is set for discussion in a congressional committee Wednesday. Governor Sandoval will also be in the capitol, speaking with energy secretary Rick Perry. We are told they will discuss the Yucca project.

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