Supposedly ‘dead’ Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project returns to vex Nevada


Maybe, if enough people say Yucca Mountain is dead, it will go away.

Why not? We’ve tried almost everything else, save for the one thing that would actually end the idea of shipping the nation’s high-level nuclear waste to be buried about 90 miles from Las Vegas.

President Donald Trump has included $120 million in his budget for the project, a lawsuit from the attorney general of Texas seeks to force the government to license the repository and a 2013 court ruling ordered the government to proceed or reject the Yucca project.

It sure doesn’t seem dead. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to most of Nevada’s officials.

“For the remainder of my term, I will vigorously fight the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada,” pledged Gov. Brian Sandoval. “Any attempt to resurrect this ill-conceived project will be met with relentless opposition, and maximum resources.”

Said Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller: “As has been said in the past, Yucca is dead and this reckless proposal will not revive it.”

And his Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, added: “Yucca Mountain is nothing more than a hole in the ground and will never be a viable solution for dealing with nuclear waste.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said, “Unfortunately, the White House is completely ignoring the will and the safety of Nevadans. Storing nuclear waste 100 miles from Las Vegas in an unstable and unsuitable environment is incredibly dangerous, not to mention that it will threaten the lifeblood of our economy — tourism.”

His colleague, Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, agreed: “This project died a long time ago — it should stay dead. I stand with Gov. Sandoval and Sen. Heller in fighting to keep this dangerous and reckless proposal from coming to fruition.”

Rep. Dina Titus took aim at Trump’s entire budget, not just Yucca. “It would invest $120 million on the failed Yucca Mountain boondoggle while slashing programs that feed our homebound seniors, keep our air clean and educate our children.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen also abjured the budget, in part due to Yucca: “Worst of all, the budget requests $120 million in funds for Yucca Mountain to make our state the country’s dumping ground for nuclear waste.”

And Attorney General Adam Laxalt pledged to continue to battle Yucca, which he dubbed the “poster child for federal overreach.”

“Nevada will continue to litigate this matter aggressively and fully,” he said. “We have many strong claims against the proposed nuclear repository. If the Trump administration continues along this path, we expect many years of protracted litigation in which we ... will ultimately prevail.”

Yucca Mountain is dead. Right?

Here’s the problem: No matter what else Yucca Mountain is, it’s also still the law of the land, approved by Congress and signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. No matter what you think of the process — Nevada’s tiny congressional delegation got rolled — it’s still the law.

And when you simply ignore the law — as President Barack Obama did, trying to chart a new “consent based” approach to storing nuclear waste — you run the risk that somebody, someday will come along and follow it. That’s why the only sure way to kill Yucca for good is to change the law.

Former Sen. Harry Reid said more than once that Yucca was a fenced-in, shut-down hole in the ground that would never be used. He dismissed concerns about Yucca remaining on the books with a pithy remark.

Reid is gone from the Senate, but Yucca is still there. And whatever else it may be, it most certainly is not dead.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.