WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander will again serve as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and said this week that the 30-year impasse on storing nuclear waste from power plants should be addressed in this Congress.
Alexander has favored a broad approach, which includes permanent placement of waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and interim storage sites at locations in Texas and New Mexico that have sought contracts and licenses to store spent fuel and materials.
The Tennessee Republican, who has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, repeated that strategy on Thursday.
“This year, we should resolve the more than 30-year stalemate over how to dispose of used nuclear fuel,” Alexander said in a statement.
“I support proceeding on all fronts: funding Yucca Mountain, as well as storing used nuclear fuel at interim storage sites and at private facilities,” he said.
Alexander favors moving waste first to interim sites, while the lengthy process to adjudicate the Department of Energy’s license application for Yucca Mountain is conducted and completed.
The senator’s approach differs from one in the House. The Energy and Commerce committee has emphasized the licensing and construction of Yucca Mountain while studying interim sites.
Nevada’s congressional delegation has opposed efforts to open Yucca Mountain, citing risks to people, water sources and the environment in transporting and storing the waste just 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
While Las Vegas business and environmental groups also oppose storage at Yucca Mountain, Nevada’s rural counties want the licensing process to be completed and, if the site is determined to be safe, constructing a permanent repository in Nye County.
Former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Nevada Public Radio interview this week that the congressional delegation was in position to block ongoing efforts to develop Yucca Mountain.
Reid, who as Senate majority leader halted the project, said Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s move to the Finance Committee, and the selection of Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee, puts the state in a good position to stop development.
Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said her vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House speaker was sealed with a commitment by the leader to oppose opening Yucca Mountain.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., the dean of the congressional delegation, and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., were behind legislative efforts to block licensing of the DOE application.
Yucca Mountain was designated as the location for the nation’s nuclear waste repository by Congress in 1987. More than $15 billion has been spent on research at the site over the past three decades.
During that time, nuclear waste produced by power plants has been stored on site at facilities in more than 30 states, with a liability cost of $34 billion to taxpayers because the federal government has not taken possession of the waste, as required by law.