Nye County official sees no alternative to Yucca Mountain

WASHINGTON -- After two years of scrutiny, a high-level study of nuclear waste has not come up with anything that would work any better than storing the material at Yucca Mountain, Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis said Thursday.

Hollis said at a public hearing that the panel that was established to devise alternatives to the canceled Yucca project found "nothing new."

"It doesn't matter how one views the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission, or how the recommendations are packaged; no better solution has been found, and there is no silver bullet," Hollis said at the meeting, where the public could comment on the panel's draft findings.

"The publication of your draft report confirmed what we had expected," Hollis said.

"Nothing new has been found that would warrant abandoning a workable policy" that the Yucca project represented.

Some residents of rural Nevada are lamenting the passing of the Yucca program. They hoped the proposed $96.2 billion repository would become a cornerstone of their economy, but the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas is all but abandoned since it was terminated by the Obama administration.

The Yucca project is unpopular with most Nevadans.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future was directed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu not to evaluate the Yucca Mountain Project or to second-guess the administration's decision to end it.

Among the findings, the panel in a 192-page draft report this summer said the United States still needs to dispose of used nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive materials in deep underground vaults.

But it recommends that states, tribes and local governments play a larger role in repository siting, including powers to turn one down.

In Nevada, top leaders argue the state unfairly was singled out for nuclear waste, which fueled a 25-year battle with the federal government, a battle the state ultimately won.

Hollis said the commission should at least have recommended that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission complete its licensing evaluation of the Yucca site. That process was suspended on Sept. 30.

"After 30 years of study and over $15 billion spent, it makes sense to have this information available to compare a thoroughly studied real site, like Yucca Mountain, against an unknown new site," Hollis said.

Darrell Lacy, director of Nye County's nuclear waste project office, said finding and developing a new waste site "will take a minimum 20 to 30 years."

Lacy asked: "Is it fair to our kids and grandkids to kick this can down the street one more time?"

Abby Johnson, the nuclear waste adviser for Eureka County, told the commission that it fell short in studying nuclear waste transportation, a key public confidence issue.

"Transportation is unusually vulnerable," she said. "One accident can undermine a perfect transportation record and the public's confidence in the safety of the entire system."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.