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Nuclear trade group plans to open office in Nevada

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Energy Institute is moving to open an office in Las Vegas, cementing a beachhead for its advocacy of a nuclear waste repository in the state.

The high-profile trade group is seeking space around McCarran International Airport, near where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set up a hearing center on Pepper Lane, according to Paul Seidler, a Nevada consultant who joined NEI on Oct. 1 as a senior director to head the office.

Seidler said the outpost will serve as an industry center for NRC hearings on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. It also will include a public information area and will provide a base for outreach to Nevadans about the project, he said.

“My game plan is just to make sure we are part of the community, able to go to the public and the media and the leadership, and that we are interacting with them on a daily basis,” said Seidler, who lives in Henderson.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she does not plan to roll out a welcome mat.

Berkley said the NEI venture foreshadows an industry push to persuade Nevadans that a nuclear waste repository will be safe when most state leaders and some residents believe otherwise.

“I hope they sign a short-term lease,” she said. “I want them to spend a ton of money, employ as many of my constituents as possible, and then I want them to go away.”

The nuclear industry’s move to boost its presence is an early sign of the heightened activity expected to be generated in Las Vegas if the NRC decides to hold hearings on a Department of Energy application to build a nuclear waste complex at the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest of the city.

Scientists, lawyers, business executives, journalists, public relations specialists and activists will attend hearings at the NRC center on the technical aspects of the project. The hearings might turn into mini-trials at times as critics challenge the project.

DOE officials have said they plan to file for a construction license by the end of June. The NRC could take up to six months for a preliminary scoping of the application before deciding whether to docket it for in-depth reviews.

NEI currently pays a small network of consultants to serve as the industry’s eyes and ears in Nevada, including former Gov. Robert List and two former chiefs of staff to former Sen. Paul Laxalt, Ace Robison and Ed Allison. Robison also served as a deputy assistant secretary within the Energy Department.

Apart from raising NEI’s profile, Seidler, 46, said he does not foresee major changes in strategy. Seidler, a former Yucca project official who has worked as a consultant in the state since the mid-1990s, said he will be joined at the outset by Chris Binzer, a communications specialist.

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