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Energy Secretary Rick Perry tours Yucca Mountain repository

Updated March 27, 2017 - 5:19 pm

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured the Yucca Mountain repository Monday, two weeks after Texas sued the federal government to address permanent storage of nuclear waste and the Trump administration added funding in its budget to revive the facility north of Las Vegas.

The Department of Energy notified Nevada officials of the visit, although the secretary’s visit to the area was low-keyed and without public fanfare.

Perry said he met with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval after the tour.

“I thanked him for the long and storied history the state of Nevada has had in our nuclear and defense industries,” Perry said. “I stressed the need for Nevada to maintain its key role as we seek sensible, stable, and long term solutions to fulfilling our responsibility to safely manage spent nuclear fuel.”

Sandoval said the meeting was “not the beginning of a negotiation with regard to Yucca Mountain. I reaffirmed my unwavering opposition to any potential progress toward developing the site as a potential destination for high-level nuclear waste.”

“Nevada has always worked with our federal partners on issues that could affect the Silver State, but the storage of high-level waste at Yucca Mountain is not something I am willing to consider,” Sandoval said.

The entire Nevada congressional delegation opposes opening the mothballed site.

Several rural counties surrounding the Nye County site support reopening Yucca Mountain, which was defunded in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

But President Donald Trump and key congressional lawmakers are pushing to address the need to permanently store 77,000 metric tons of waste temporarily stored at nuclear reactors across the country.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she was “troubled that the new Energy Secretary is visiting the site without informing members of the Nevada congressional delegation.”

Earlier this year, Titus wrote to Trump to request that his administration visit Nevada and meet with experts who have studied the issue. She said reopening the site “imperils our state and nearly every congressional district in the country.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., whose congressional district includes the Nye County site, said they were notified over the weekend that Perry would be visiting the facility.

Heller said he welcomed Perry to Nevada, but lodged his opposition to turning “Yucca into a nuclear waste dump.”

“It is important for Secretary Perry to see firsthand the negative impact this project would have on Nevadans,” Kihuen said.

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit with the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals claiming Perry and the federal government have failed to follow the law by providing a permanent disposal for nuclear waste.

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress in the 1980s as the national repository for nuclear waste created by reactors used to provide electricity.

In his budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, Trump called for $120 million to revive construction of the Yucca Mountain site, as well as development of an interim nuclear waste storage program.

Perry said the meeting with Sandoval “was the first step in a process that will involve talking with many federal, state, local, and commercial stakeholders.”

“The State of Nevada has helped keep America strong, safe and secure since the earliest days of the Cold War. I look forward to the State of Nevada maintaining its leadership role in America’s safety and security,” Perry said.

Sandoval and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt have vowed to fight any proposed Yucca Mountain revival with state funds and litigation.

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

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