82°F
weather icon Clear

Lawmaker hopes Yucca Mountain tour puts pressure on Congress

WASHINGTON — In an effort to spotlight congressional inaction on long-term nuclear waste storage, House lawmakers from states with power plants that produce and store the highly radioactive material will tour the mothballed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada on Saturday.

The dozen or so congressmen expected to visit the 5-mile exploratory tunnel support storing nuclear waste in Nevada and are frustrated with the federal government for failing to dispose of spent fuel rods and radioactive materials as required by federal law.

No opponents of the project 95 miles northwest of Las Vegas will be on the tour led by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., whose congressional district includes Yucca Mountain, was belatedly invited to attend, but his office said he already had made plans by that point. Shimkus then asked Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, if they would like to attend. Both declined.

“I have been to Yucca Mountain and am well-acquainted with this issue,” Titus, who represents Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal. “I am not interested in giving legitimacy to his taxpayer-funded junket to my district.”

‘Obvious political stunt’

Rosen expressed similar sentiments: “This is an obvious political stunt from Congressman Shimkus, and I’m not going to be a part of it,” she said.

It is the first tour of the undeveloped site since April 2015, when Shimkus led a half-dozen lawmakers underground to see the proposed repository for themselves.

Shimkus informed the Nevada congressional delegation in a July 12 letter that he would be visiting the state again with other lawmakers and would tour the Yucca Mountain site. Shimkus said the delegation would be accompanied by Department of Energy staff, customary for trips to DOE facilities or sites.

Shimkus introduced legislation that was approved by the House in May on a 340-72 bipartisan vote to streamline the licensing process on the DOE’s application to build the repository to store 110,000 cubic tons of nuclear waste at the site.

Licensing hearings by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were defunded in 2011 by the Obama administration at the behest of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

President Donald Trump has proposed restarting the licensing process and included funding in his budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins Oct. 1.

Although the House has authorized and appropriated funds for licensing, the Senate has not.

Senate Republican leaders are unlikely to resume the licensing process in an election year where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., faces a tough re-election battle in a state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A dogged advocate

Shimkus, though, has remained a dogged and tireless advocate for the Yucca Mountain project, which he maintains was illegally halted by the Obama administration, costing taxpayers billions in liability and legal costs for the government’s failure to secure and dispose of the waste.

Congress in 1987 passed legislation designating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole site to permanently store nuclear waste. The government has spent $15 billion to study the site in Nye County, including drilling of the exploratory tunnel.

Local officials support the project. The state does not.

Reid used his political clout as a Senate leader to delay and derail Yucca Mountain plans.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has waged a continuous battle with the federal government over nuclear waste storage. The state has over 200 legal challenges to the DOE application for a construction license. Many of those challenges deal with groundwater concerns.

In the Senate, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., have opposed legislative efforts to revive the licensing process. Heller was instrumental in having legislative language to fund licensing taken out of a Senate spending bill and defense authorization bill.

House hearings on Yucca Mountain have featured testimony from scientists and engineers that the volcanic ridge where the radioactive waste would be stored underground would be safe. One estimated that it could be stored there for 1 million years without a problem.

All four of Nevada’s representatives — Republican Mark Amodei and Democrats Kihuen, Rosen and Titus — voted against the Shimkus bill this year.

Bipartisan support

But the lopsided House vote shows the bipartisan support for nuclear waste policy to address long-term storage of material being stockpiled at power plants and military sites in 34 states.

An annual DOE financial report found taxpayer liability for litigation over the federal government’s failure to permanently store nuclear waste has grown by $3.3 billion over last year.

“Taxpayers in all 50 states are now liable for $34.1 billion because the federal government has not even begun to consolidate the spent nuclear fuel stranded around our nation,” Shimkus said when the report was released.

While supporters continue to highlight the need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste, opponents continue to spotlight concerns about using the Nevada site.

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, which will be in Washington next week to meet with lawmakers on various issues, argues that if Yucca Mountain were opened, nuclear waste shipments would travel through 329 congressional districts in 44 states to reach Nevada.

In a July 11 letter to House leaders, the Las Vegas business leaders said “the transport and safety of these shipments need to be part of a national conversation.”

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
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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.
THE LATEST
Court says US can reject asylum along parts of Mexico border

A federal appeals court’s ruling will allow the White House to begin rejecting asylum at some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border for migrants who arrived after transiting through a third country.

Greenland advises Trump it’s not for sale

“We see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer,” the government said. “Of course, Greenland is not for sale.”

Trump ties US economic success to winning 2nd term

President Donald Trump sought to reassure his supporters about the state of the U.S. economy in New Hampshire, a state that he hopes to capture in 2020, that their financial security depends on his reelection.