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February 1, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Congress pursues a dangerous path in trying to revive Yucca Mountain

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pushed through a bill Friday that would provide $45 million to move ahead with the plan to turn Nevada into a dump for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.

The issue has become an obsession for the nuclear industry’s supporters in Congress, who have been angered by President Barack Obama’s correct assessment that the plan is unworkable. Obama stopped work on the project, and a blue-ribbon commission is exploring other options for the nation’s nuclear waste.

But that hasn’t stopped the industry’s supporters in Congress. The energy and water appropriations bill that passed Friday would mandate that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission restart its review of the George W. Bush administration’s application to build the dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Thankfully, the bill has little chance of moving beyond the House. Nevada’s members of Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have diligently worked together for years to try to end a project that has been marked by flawed science and poor plans, and they have successfully cut millions of dollars proposed for Yucca Mountain. For that matter, the effort has been so successful that the project is on the verge of its demise.

An outspoken opponent of Yucca Mountain, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against the bill Friday, and she was joined by freshman Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. It was good to see Heck vote against the bill because his views on nuclear waste haven’t always been clear or consistent. For example, he says geological disposal of nuclear waste, as is proposed at Yucca Mountain, is an old 20th-century technology, but he doesn’t seem to be unalterably opposed to bringing nuclear waste here, as evidenced by his statements last year during the campaign that the NRC’s review should “go to completion.”

Furthermore, Heck has proposed making Yucca Mountain a center for research and development of recycling nuclear waste. On Wednesday, Heck introduced an amendment to the bill that would have diverted, but not cut, much of the money for Yucca Mountain and put it into research and development of nuclear waste. His amendment failed.

As Karoun Demirjian reported Friday on the Las Vegas Sun’s website, Heck objected to the spending bill because it would cut funding for renewable energy projects that could be built in Nevada and because it “continues funding a project that is unpopular and has long been considered dead, Yucca Mountain, despite other feasible options.”

That’s good to hear given his previous statements and actions.

As we have pointed out, the plan for Yucca Mountain is dangerous and incredibly expensive, with an estimated cost of $100 billion. It would require years of transporting high-level waste across the country, past most of the nation’s population. Federal officials would then shove it in Yucca Mountain — a porous, volcanic ridge that lies in an area prone to earthquakes.

The clear answer is that the waste should be kept where it is now — at nuclear reactor sites. It can be kept safely, and more cheaply, for decades in concrete-and-steel containers called dry casks. In the meantime, scientists can find safe ways to dispose of it.

Nevadans have said time and again they don’t want nuclear waste and they don’t want the federal government tying to shove it down their throats.

Congress should be done with this project once and for all.

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  1. Hopefully, within a hundred years, the great minds of this planet will discover innovative and safe ways to recycle/reprocess high level radioactive waste, that can co-exist on the same property as the nuclear power plants.

    So to Future's, "- Without the benefiting from the high-value-added aspects of the disposal process, and with a repository selection delay of up to a hundred years, the current political environment will change (without a Harry Reid around) and Yucca Mountain may well be selected -- again."

    All we have now is time on our side and good science and technology to wait upon, and that is a real fair trade for the People of Nevada who oppose this current project mission. Maybe money will be better spent developing those safer alternatives!

  2. That hundred billion is a tad overstated, but since it is for a repository almost twice as large as the one allowed by Congress in the Nuclear Waste Polcy Act of 1982, as amended, it is not ourageously expensive. We are about to throw away a 15 Billion dollar investment in Yucca and no one in Nevada seems to care.

    Safety is not an issue, as the license application and the leaked results of the NRC review made clear, despite the expected occurrence of earthquakes. Transportation of spent fuel, according to a National Academy of Sciences study in 2002, is many thousands of times less risky to the public than the shipment of certain chemicals that come through Las Vegas all the time.

    The Blue Ribbon Commission's (BRC's)first drafts suggested the nation go to regional interim storage and work on a repository at the same time. No matter what technology is applied to reprocess and recycle spent fuel, a repository will be needed for the resulting high-level waste.

    While in Carlsbad, NM, the BRC was treated to two counties telling them they had pooled their money and bought a parcel of land for an interim spent-fuel storage facility. The BRC also heard from officials starting with the Governor, including all of the Sate Senate in a resolution, asking the federal government to come and talk about expanding the geological repository near Carlsbad that has been run safely by DOE for over 12 years, and is approaching 12-million miles of safe waste transport. That sort of state-wide support ought to be rewarded!

    If a new repository were to be located near the present one, site characterization would be relatively cheap given that boring some deep holes could confirm that the salt- beds are the same a mile or whatever distance away. Using salt as a disposal host rock also does not require engineered barriers like Yucca did, potentially saving -perhaps- as much as 15 billion?

    What about recycling? If a new plant could get operating in 30 years and were to be capable of taking on the new used-fuel produced each year thereafter, the "legacy" spent fuel we have now, and 30 years from now, is best disposed of. To also reprocess it would require two such plants, and plants of this type are very sophisticated and hellaciously expensive!

    Nevada threatened to unleash all its piled up anti-Yucca rhetoric if the federal government tried to bring greater-than-class-C low-level waste to the test site for disposal. This is high-end low-level waste, for goodness-sake!

    What was New Mexico's official response to the same prospect? To put it too simply: 'this could work, let's talk.'

    Nevada does not deserve any new nuclear projects. Nevada has been loyal to its gaming mistress with whom it hopes to live happily ever after. A mistress who is all over the world expanding her operations. She don't really care about Nevada's pitiful and dogged one-way faithfulness. So sorry, Nevada, your mistress is unfaithful.

  3. We keep up the fight.

    To hell with this "Screw Nevada" effort that has been continuing on and on and on and on since the 1980s regarding this issue.

    Line up a battalion of lawyers and a whole regiment of scientists who all keep trying to convince Nevada to take this crap. Let them spend money. I want them to blow money. As much as they can. Get Congressman in committees and fact finding missions. EXPENSIVE ones. Because the more they spend money and fail, it might finally sink into their thick skulls we don't want southern Nevada turned into the nation's nuclear waste toilet.

    No means no and it STILL means no.

    Thank God we finally have Nevada politicians on our side. And a President who listens to reason. Wish we had them a long time ago when we could have nipped this in the bud from the very beginning.

    Agree with the writer. Nuclear waste can be kept where it is made at. And it can be done more safely and cheaper. Especially with regulations directing them how to store it.

  4. New Mexico is fine. I'm good with that.