91°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

As safety board cites quakes, Perry says Nevada nuke sites safe

Updated April 2, 2019 - 7:04 pm

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry acknowledged Tuesday that the Nevada National Security Site — where weapons-grade plutonium is being stored — and the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository are located in an area considered a seismic hazard.

But he insisted that the facility where the half metric ton of plutonium is being held is secure and that Yucca Mountain would be a safe site to store waste.

Perry vowed to take a report from an independent safety board about the earthquake hazards into account as the department examines safety at the security site, as well as with the license application for Yucca Mountain.

“I think it’s safe,” Perry told Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday.

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Cortez Masto shot back, noting she had friends and family who had worked at the facility. “I grew up in Las Vegas.”

The hearing was held to examine the Energy Department’s proposed $31.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts Oct. 1.

The budget includes $116 million to jump-start licensing hearings required for a construction permit to build Yucca Mountain, a project opposed by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation.

State leaders are also concerned about the plutonium that was secretly transferred into the state last year, as Nevada prepared a lawsuit to stop the shipment. It’s being stored at the Device Assembly Facility, a collection of 30 steel-reinforced, concrete buildings.

Safety board report

Perry told Cortez Masto the facility was secure.

Cortez Masto raised concerns by the Air Force and other entities about the safety of storing plutonium at the facility and opening a nuclear waste repository in a region with current seismic activity.

Cortez Masto grilled Perry on a report first revealed by the Review-Journal in which the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board outlined risks to workers and the “offsite public” because of seismic hazards to structures at the Device Assembly Facility at the security site, located about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

“This facility continues to operate without accounting for the increase in seismic hazard and without evaluating whether the credited structures, systems and components can perform their safety function during and after a seismic event,” wrote Bruce Hamilton, chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, in the board’s report.

The board noted that concerns about seismic hazards at the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada were first raised in 2007.

Earthquake faults near Yucca

Cortez Masto raised the most recent U.S. Geological Survey report, issued in 2008, which lists the area that includes the Nevada security site and nearby Yucca Mountain as one of moderate to high seismic hazard.

Two faults, the Northern Death Valley and the Black Mountains, are located west of the Nevada security site and the proposed nuclear waste storage facility. According to the USGS, one of the strongest recent earthquakes in the state occurred on June 29, 1992, at Little Skull Mountain in the southwest portion of the Nevada security site and about 12 miles east of Yucca Mountain. That earthquake registered magnitude 5.6.

The safety board report noted that the Device Assembly Facility has “high explosives co-located with special nuclear material.”

Cortez Masto said the seismic hazards cited in the report should also be taken into account in the administration’s attempt to restart license hearings on the Energy Department’s application for Yucca Mountain.

Site is unsafe

Sisolak agreed with Cortez Masto in a statement.

“As the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board — a federal safety board — pointed out recently, earthquake risks make the Nevada National Security Site unsuitable for plutonium and make Yucca Mountain unsuitable for nuclear waste,” he said.

Cortez Masto also asked Perry about President Donald Trump’s flip-flop on Yucca Mountain during a campaign event in Nevada last year, where he said he agreed that a nuclear waste dump should not be located in the state if the residents don’t want it.

“What we all have to recognize here is that Yucca Mountain is the law,” Perry answered. “I’m going to follow the law. The president is going to follow the law. His opinion of whether or not the people of Nevada like it or not doesn’t have anything to do with what the statute says.”

Cortez Masto replied that the Obama administration had taken a different approach, preferring a consent-based plan to store nuclear waste in an area where residents didn’t oppose it.

And she told the secretary the 1987 law that focused only on Yucca Mountain to store waste was a decision that “shows extreme political influence was used to scapegoat the state of Nevada.”

“All I am asking is for some reasonable people to come to the table to address this issue and recognize that scientifically this is not safe for Nevada,” Cortez Masto said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
THE LATEST
Kushner to head to Mideast to push Palestinian economic plan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is returning to the Mideast at month’s end to promote the administration’s $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians that they’ve rejected because it ignores their political demands.

Trump administration pauses enforcement of abortion restriction

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is giving taxpayer-funded family planning clinics more time to comply with its new rule that says they no longer can refer women for abortions.