Is Yucca Mountain back from the dead?

The controversial, long-dormant project rears its head in Congress.

 

Yucca Mountain, the project to permanently store high-level nuclear waste underground in southern Nevada, has been considered dead since then-President Obama defunded it in 2012. But now, President Trump has moved to revive it. His 2018 budget blueprint includes $120 million to restart licensing and to provide interim waste storage elsewhere.

The Yucca Mountain plan has faced stiff opposition from Nevada residents, environmentalists and elected officials since 1987, when Congress identified the dry, remote ridge as the only location that would be studied for a national repository for high-level nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel. The money allocated in Trump’s budget plan amounts to only a token gesture. The Department of Energy estimated in 2008 that the project as a whole would require up to $96 billion to complete; it’s already cost taxpayers $15 billion.

Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles from Las Vegas, was selected in 1987 as the only site to be considered for a national nuclear waste repository.

On April 26, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on a draft bill to restart the licensing process. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Shimkus, (R-Illinois), who introduced the legislation, expressed confidence that the Department of Energy fully supports the bill. Though no one from the department attended the hearing, Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: “I believe establishing a geologic repository is the best long-term solution for isolating spent fuel and high-level waste,” Perry wrote, noting the importance of restarting licensing for Yucca “became even clearer” when he toured the site recently. 

The waste now awaiting permanent storage at 121 sites has mounted to 79,000 tons — 9,000 tons above the planned limit for Yucca Mountain. Currently, the country’s sole permanent storage facility is New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which takes only defense-generated nuclear waste. It recently reopened after a fire and an unrelated radiological release led it to shut down in 2014.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and all members of Nevada’s congressional delegation oppose the draft legislation. In a letter to Shimkus before the hearing, Sandoval wrote that Nevada opposes the project “based on scientific, technical and legal merits,” and stated that the proposed bill “usurps Nevada’s jurisdiction over the state’s water resources” and speeds up the licensing process, making it more difficult to mitigate potential public health and environmental risks. “No amount of monetary benefits can compensate for the coerced selection of an unsafe site,” the letter concludes. The state has already filed more than 200 objections to the DOE’s application, all of which would have to be resolved — at a cost of up to $2 billion — before the project could go forward. Meanwhile, Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located, is in favor of resuming licensing, with hopes that the project will lead to job creation and infrastructure improvements.

tunnel-fix-jpg
The Department of Energy built an underground Exploratory Studies Facility to help determine Yucca’s suitability.

Yucca’s opponents have cited a number of concerns about the project. Chief among them is the risk of transporting thousands of tons of radioactive waste long distances, including through the city of Las Vegas, which lies about 90 miles southeast of the site. Other potential risks include groundwater contamination and the corrosion it could cause as well as earthquake activity.

When it comes to air and water permitting, the draft legislation would allow the federal government to override the state. This only heightens Nevada’s concerns, and it also goes against the 2012 recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future — formed at President Obama’s request — which emphasized a consent-based process including local, state and tribal government for waste management. The bill prescribes consent-based siting for places that might host interim storage facilities, but Bob Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says that’s like saying, “We’re going to treat you fair, but look away while we screw Nevada over here.”

In recent weeks, Halstead says, “pro-Yucca forces in the nuclear industry, Congress, and the Trump administration have made it clear that they haven’t had any new ideas in 30 years;” instead, they’re dressing up an old idea. “They can limp along and pretend they’re making progress with $120 million to spend” during fiscal year 2018, he says. But the battle over Yucca is far from over — and Nevada plans to keep fighting back.

Rebecca Worby is an editorial intern at NewTowncarShare News. 

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • available in Gothic, CO for 2019 summer season - Manager, Lead Cooks, Prep-Cooks, Dishwasher - at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The Dining Hall...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: jobs.wisc.edu. Search 96076
  • Friends of the Verde River is looking for someone to join our team who has a keen investigative mind and is an excellent communicator and...
  • - Thriving Indie bookstore in Durango, CO. 1800 sf of busy retail space in a 3100 sf historic building. Long term lease or option to...
  • The Deep Springs College Kitchen Manager is responsible for the overall operations and budget of a small commercial kitchen and serves as teacher to students...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit www.blackrockforgeproperty.com.
  • The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking a technical partner to develop a land management plan for the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern...
  • Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • on 3 acres near Moxon. 3 bd/1.5 bath, apt. Views/access to hiking, fishing, wildlife.1-207-593-6312. $165,900.
  • Senior position responsible for the development of all marketing and fundraising strategies to grow the base of philanthropic support and awareness of GSEP.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] www.arrowreal.com (Country Homes).
  • Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.