House Approves Bill To Revive Nevada Nuclear Waste Dump
The House has voted to pass an election-year bill that would revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain despite opposition from home-state lawmakers.
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 will 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.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 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.
Senator Dean Heller released this statement:
“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,” said Heller. “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.”
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer released this joint statement:
“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.”
Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen released this statement:
"I am pleased that the House passed H.R. 3053 by such an overwhelmingly bi-partisan vote. The bill gets politics out of the Yucca Mountain debate and bases the decision on science, where it belongs. It follows the wishes of nine of Nevada’s counties that have passed resolutions in support of hearing the science on the Yucca Mountain repository. It also provides benefits to the State of Nevada and the affected local governments during the pendency of the hearings. I congratulate Congressman Shimkus for his leadership on restoring the rule of law and allowing the debate to proceed on this issue of national import."
Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen released this statement:
“Permanently storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is a reckless and ill-conceived plan that could put communities across the country in danger, jeopardize our military testing and training, waste billions more in taxpayer dollars, and harm Nevada’s tourism industry,” said Rosen. “I’m deeply disappointed to see this Republican-controlled Congress vote to ship radioactive nuclear waste across the country to this unfit site, endangering not just Nevada but countless other communities along the way. Attempting to transport tens of thousands of metric tons of hazardous waste on our highways and train tracks will create serious problems, and I will not stop educating my colleagues about these risks. The fight to kill this failed project will continue, and I will keep working diligently in Congress to repurpose Yucca Mountain into something that can create jobs while keeping our families safe.”
Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford released the following statement:
"This is a failed and unworkable proposal that isn't about politics: it is about safety and quality of life for Nevada residents. Democrats and Republicans have agreed that this is not a partisan issue, this is a state issue, and the people of Nevada reject the idea of storing nuclear waste in our backyard. "The tourism industry also broadly opposes measures to store waste at Yucca Mountain because they understand visitors come to Las Vegas for the neon lights, not a radioactive glow. "As a Representative from Nevada, I opposed any avenues for the activation of this project and will continue to advocate against it. Funding for the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain should be put to better use. Multiple scientific reports have determined this is not a feasible site, and as a result the decision to abandon this project has been re-affirmed multiple times. There are investments we have made in Yucca Mountain already, and we should find an appropriate, alternative use for this site."
Nevada Rep. Dina Titus released the following statement:
“I have fought the misguided and dangerous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project for my entire career and I’m not giving up,” said Representative Dina Titus. “This legislation is fundamentally flawed and going nowhere in the Senate. It does nothing but to double down on the failed policies of the last 36 years. I offered the House a new path forward, one that is based on the consent of the host state and affected communities. If we are to solve this issue once and for all, we have to change directions. Nevada remains unified in opposition to turning our state into the nation’s waste dump, and that will not change.”
Nevada Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen issued the statement:
“I am disappointed that Congress has once again chosen to ignore the will of Nevadans and residents of Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District. 30 years have passed since Nevada was unfairly targeted by the “Screw Nevada” bill and this new bill is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. The passage of H.R. 3053 today continues to “screw” our state, compromising our economy, the countless tourists who visit our state and the millions of residents living in Las Vegas, and the country’s national security. Simply put, there is no reason to store the nation’s spent nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and I find it offensive that Nevada is being offered up as a tribute for this project. I will continue to fight back against creating a nuclear repository in our backyard and ensure the voices of Nevadans are heard loud and clear.”
Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei released this long statement:
“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,” said Congressman Amodei. “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.”
City of Henderson Mayor Debra March released this:
“I oppose this renewed effort in Congress to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear dump and to flood our roads and railways with dangerous shipments of radioactive waste. Nevadans have been fighting Yucca Mountain for more than three decades and we are not going to surrender now. Once again we are seeing a proposal that would force the Silver State to accept nuclear waste, that would increase the amount to be dumped in our backyard and that would mean even more shipments of this toxic trash loaded on to trains and trucks that are likely to be involved in accidents or become terrorist targets. One spill involving high-level nuclear waste could devastate Southern Nevada’s tourist economy and endanger the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. Shame on those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the very real danger that Yucca Mountain represents and who are willing to minimize the real risks to states all across our nation that will come from transporting this nuclear waste to Nevada,” said Mayor Debra March.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)