WASHINGTON — House lawmakers with a vested interest in permanent storage of nuclear waste in Nevada will make a trek to Yucca Mountain this month to tour the mothballed exploratory tunnel in the geological formation northwest of Las Vegas.
While the Senate remains reluctant to resume licensing to open the repository, ongoing efforts by the House give supporters of the project hope that the Trump administration can move forward on plans to permanently store the radioactive waste in one of least populous states.
The bipartisan congressional delegation tour, led by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee on environment, will take place on the weekend of July 14, a committee aide said.
Congressional lawmakers last toured the Yucca Mountain site in 2015. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also privately toured the site in 2017.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said advocates of the project will be wasting their time and taxpayer dollars by visiting a project that she and other Nevada lawmakers have said must never be built.
“Nothing has changed since Chairman Shimkus jetted to Las Vegas in 2015 to take photos in front of a hole in the ground,” she said
Perry has said there is a “moral obligation” to build Yucca Mountain and uphold federal obligations to safely store nuclear waste.
But federal efforts have met resistance from Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and the state’s congressional delegation. They oppose storing waste in the repository in rural Nye County, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and transporting nuclear waste through the state’s cities.
Nevada rural counties generally support the repository and the economic boom they say it would create with high-paying federal jobs and contractors.
Licensing procedures for Yucca Mountain were stopped in 2012 when the Obama administration cut funding for the project at the behest of then-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
President Donald Trump has proposed funding to resume the process.
Shimkus wrote legislation that was overwhelmingly passed by the House this year that would streamline the licensing process for the Department of Energy’s application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct the waste repository to store waste generated by the nation’s power plants there.
Every Nevada member of the House voted against the bill.
The Senate has not approved funding, or authorizing legislation, to restart the licensing process on Yucca Mountain, although the repository was identified by Congress in 1987 as the site for permanent storage of nuclear waste from the reactors for energy generation.
The Senate, most notably Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water, contends that while Yucca Mountain is an integral part of long-term storage of nuclear waste, interim storage sites must be identified and funded to immediate reduce waste stockpiled at plants nationwide.
Nevada Sens. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, both oppose the Yucca Mountain project.