House panel backs bill to revive Nevada nuclear waste dump

June 28, 2017
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel on Wednesday approved a bill to revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, while also moving forward with a separate plan for a temporary storage site in New Mexico or Texas.

Supporters said the bill represents a comprehensive package to solve a nuclear-waste management problem that has festered for more than three decades. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill, 49-4, sending it to the full House.

Republican Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon, Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois said in a joint statement the bill is good for taxpayers, communities and ratepayers. Walden chairs Energy and Commerce, while Upton and Shimkus chair energy and environment subcommittees.

Thirty years after Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site for a permanent repository for nuclear waste, “it’s now 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,” the lawmakers said.

The Trump administration has proposed reviving the long-stalled Yucca project 100 miles from Las Vegas. Trump’s budget would spend $120 million to restart a licensing process for the Yucca site, which Nevada officials from both parties fiercely oppose.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry told a Senate hearing last week that he understands the political opposition but said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to find a long-term solution to store spent fuel from its commercial nuclear fleet.

“This is a sensitive topic for some, but we can no longer kick the can down the road,” Perry said.

While the fight over Yucca resumes, lawmakers say they hope to make progress on a plan to temporarily house tons of spent fuel that has 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 for supporters.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., who helped draft the compromise bill, said it’s important to remove nuclear waste being stored at decommissioned nuclear power plants, such as the Rancho Seco and San Onofre sites in California.

“Although I think all of us feel that the language isn’t perfect, I am pleased that it provides a light at the end of the tunnel for facilities like Rancho Seco that have stored waste on-site for decades,” Matsui said.

But Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., called the House bill “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Heller, who is up for re-election next year, said “the only real solution to our nation’s nuclear waste problem is through consent-based siting” that stores nuclear waste in sites where local officials approve.

“We owe it to the American taxpayer to move past the failed policies of Yucca Mountain. I will continue to stand with the state of Nevada and fight this reckless proposal every step of the way in the U.S. Senate,” Heller said.

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