WASHINGTON — Rather than start from scratch on nuclear waste, a House chairman said Wednesday Congress should make another pitch to Nevada to revive the Yucca Mountain site.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the Department of Energy has estimated it will spend $5.6 billion over the next 10 years to pursue new strategy to locate and study potential storage sites for used nuclear reactor fuel.
“Why not offer this money to Nevada?” he said at a House hearing. “Part of the problem with the state of Nevada is that they say ‘Show me the money,’ and they don’t believe we would follow through. Wouldn’t $5.6 billion to a state that has a struggling economy... don’t you think that would be a good lure?”
Shimkus added he was “tired” of a perception that Nevadans “are all one-sided” against Yucca Mountain, saying residents in Nye County and other rural counties are all for locating a nuclear waste complex there.
“There is a strong group of Nevadans who want this, hence going back to this $5.6 billion we would put on the table, to help convince maybe the others,” he said.
The remarks by Shimkus, a leading proponent of the Yucca site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas that has been shuttered for more than three years, came at a hearing of the House environment and the economy subcommittee that he leads.
The guest witness was Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who sought to fend off skepticism of the Obama administration’s new approach to nuclear waste that includes seeking states to volunteer to host temporary storage or disposal centers.
Like his predecessor Steven Chu did in Capitol Hill appearances, Moniz repeatedly told lawmakers the administration has moved on from Yucca Mountain, viewing it as a lost cause.
“When this administration took office the timeline for opening Yucca Mountain had already been pushed back by two decades, stalled by public protest and legal opposition, with no end in sight,” he said. “It was clear the stalemate could continue indefinitely.”
In response to Shimkus, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said after the hearing that Nevada “is not for sale.”
“Would $5.6 billion be a ‘good lure’ for Collinsville, Illinois?” Titus said, referring to Shimkus’ hometown. “We could ship the waste there, maybe by barge on the Mississippi?”
At a Senate energy hearing on Tuesday, Moniz encouraged senators to move forward with a bill that would write into law the “consent-based” strategy for attracting new nuclear waste sites.
But House members might be a harder sell. In votes taken three weeks ago, lawmakers indicated support for Yucca Mountain by margins of better than 3-to-1.
Shimkus told Moniz finding nuclear waste takers will be easier said than done.
“What makes you believe that a consent-based approach somewhere in this country is not going to end up, 30 years later, $15 billion in the hole just like what we have right now at Yucca Mountain?” he said.
“We better be careful of this illusion that a consent-based approach is going to be a panacea,” Shimkus said. “I’m not sure it’s supported by the facts.”
Moniz said the law needs to change for the Department of Energy to begin recruiting.
“Look, we all know all of these issues around nuclear waste take time,” he said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.