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October 1, 2014

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Funding to fight Yucca Mountain shrinks as dirt thrown on project

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U.S. Department of Energy

Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

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Some have declared dead the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, citing President Barack Obama zeroing out funding for it in the federal budget.

Opponents of the storage facility 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas better hope so, because federal dollars to fund Clark County’s opposition will soon be gone too.

Clark County, which has received $1.3 million to $1.9 million a year to educate, study and bring licensing challenges, will soon confront the likelihood of shutting down its Nuclear Waste Division.

Irene Navis, the division’s planning manager, said funding was cut by more than half, to $800,000, this year. By cutting consultants, she will be able to keep her staff of six and two Washington lawyers on for another year.

But after June 2012, the money will be gone.

Clark County, suffering budget troubles, is in no position to come up with an extra $800,000.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act provided money to certain counties because lawmakers knew the cost to defend against the nuclear dump would be high. Nine Nevada counties and one in California share $9 million to fund similar efforts.

The money will disappear at a time when the fate of the project is less than certain.

Although Obama’s budget has given some the confidence to declare it dead, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has submitted an alternate budget that includes money for the project. In addition, last week Republicans in Congress announced that they wanted to investigate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to see if its decision to scuttle the project was politically motivated.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not issued a final decision. The courts have not issued their decision about the notion that the (Yucca Mountain) application can be withdrawn by the Department of Energy,” Navis said. “We’re certainly in an awkward position.”

The Nevada delegation has spoken with a unified voice in opposition to a Yucca repository. And in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state has clout to keep the dump on hold indefinitely.

Still, David Cherry, spokesman for Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said “we should worry.”

“We need to be forever vigilant until we know this thing is ended, because someone will always want to put it back on the table,” he said. “Whenever it comes to discussions about nuclear waste, all roads lead back to Yucca Mountain.”

There are a number of scenarios that could bring the repository back to life.

If, for example, Obama loses in 2012, it would put a Republican in the White House who would likely be more sympathetic toward reviving the project.

“Nevada could still lose in court,” Cherry added. “We have weapons in our arsenal, including Reid as majority leader. But in Washington, money is everything. It doesn’t matter if something is authorized, if there’s no money.”

For Clark County’s part, Navis said, were Yucca Mountain to be revived as a site for burial of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, it would also mean funding would return to the county.

But for Navis, it would mean a return to a job she wants to end.

“We always knew we were working our way out of a job, and our consultants knew that too,” Navis said.

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  1. Let's make a trade I give you Yucca Moutain and you give me a public option to health care.

  2. All of this frantic effort to protect the number one business of Nevada, which is gaming, from a potential downturn because of fear over nuclear materials on the reailroads? The way Las-Vegas-style gaming has spread itself all over the world like a bad virus ought to be an indication of how much that industry cares about itself and how little that indutry cares about Las Vegas. Las Vegas and Nevada need to diversify economically or both will die a slow economic death. YM was a great diversification engine, but it is as good as dead. Nevada does not deserve this low-risk, high-gain, long-term economic opportunity. It was once called the greatest public works project ever undertaken in this country. Its license application showed it to be safe for a million years even given climate changes, earthquakes, and the very small risk of a volcanic event nearby with a molten-rock intrusion. So what is the big fight about currently? To make sure no one sees the NRC staff's conclusions, drawn from their independent review of this license application. Gee, it might actually suggest that this 'could' be safe, and "we" just can't have that because we have based "our" whole careers on maintaining that it is very, very dangerous. This is not politics as much as it is the petty side of human nature unrestrained by serious peer challenges that call for a need to honor truth. The NRC staff review of the license application is just such a challenge. Yucca is probably dead as a doornail, so publsh it already, all of it. What can it hurt? Reputations? Good.

  3. Nuclear has to be, must be, the primary source of electrical production in this country. The country will eventually come around, given the improvements in technology and safety. NV is shooting itself in the foot by opposing YM. Not only should NV embrace YM, it should also begin looking for sites for newer, safer, more powerful buried reactors that don't need water.

    Why is popular and political thinking still back with Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl? The Japanese experience is an anomaly. Nuclear is the only way this nation can meet the electrical demands on an industrial scale this country will be needing. Think ahead, NV, not behind.