weather icon Clear

Tennessee senator ready to force showdown on Yucca Mountain

Updated May 27, 2019 - 12:24 am

WASHINGTON — The fate of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could be decided in the Senate this year where Sen. Lamar Alexander said he will seek an up or down vote on the Nevada site before he writes spending legislation to revive the project.

Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy, told the Review-Journal he will seek a Senate floor vote this year on Yucca Mountain before he moves legislation to fund the licensing process to determine if the site is safe.

“What I would like for us to do is decide the Yucca Mountain question,” Alexander said.

“We either move ahead with it,” Alexander said, or Congress should move on with other forms of distribution of nuclear waste.

“We’ve had about a 35-year stalemate on this issue and it’s time to break up the stalemate and come to a decision,” Alexander told the Review-Journal.

A House committee voted last week to keep money for Yucca Mountain out of its spending bill for the Department of Energy.

The entire Nevada congressional delegation lobbied fellow lawmakers to vote against funding for hearings on the department’s application to build a nuclear waste facility outside Las Vegas.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., the only Silver State lawmaker on the House Appropriations Committee, voted with Democrats to block an amendment by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to add $74 million in the energy spending bill to advance the Yucca Mountain project.

“Make no mistake, this is a major victory for Nevada,” said Democrat Rep. Dina Titus, the dean of the state’s congressional delegation.

“As we keep an eye on the Senate, my efforts will be focused on advancing consent-based storage for nuclear waste,” Titus said of her legislation that would require permission from local governments, tribes and the state’s governor to construct a facility to store nuclear waste.

Senate Yucca bills

There are two bills that have been filed in the Senate to address nuclear waste storage. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has legislation that would fast-track opening of licensing hearings and development of Yucca Mountain.

Another bill, whose co-sponsors include Alexander, would seek changes in the law to allow private contractors to store waste at interim sites while a permanent facility is constructed. That bill includes Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository.

But first, Alexander wants a decision on Yucca Mountain, designated by Congress in 1987 as the sole site for permanent storage of nuclear waste produced by power plants and Navy ships.

“So the House’s decision will be important, and now it’s up to the Senate to see what we think. The way to do that is to vote on it,” Alexander said.

“I think there should be a vote in the Senate this year on Yucca Mountain,” Alexander said. “If it gets 60 votes, why then the Senate would be for moving ahead for one more year of funding to determine whether Yucca Mountain is safe.”

He said his committee would then draw up a spending bill that includes funds for licensing to continue development on the Nevada site.

If a vote on Yucca Mountain legislation does not garner the 60 votes to advance, then Alexander said Congress should move ahead with a bipartisan proposal with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for interim storage sites, congressional authority to store waste at private storage sites and a search for a permanent repository.

Opponents face steep hurdle in Senate

Nuclear waste is currently stockpiled at 121 sites in 39 states, where lawmakers are clamoring for the federal government to remove the radioactive material as required by the 1987 law.

Further, the three-decade delay to address the waste storage issue has left a buildup of more than 100,000 metric tons of waste at those sites, far more than the 70,000 metric tons the 1987 law contemplates for storage at Yucca Mountain.

The failure of the Department of Energy to remove and store the waste is costing taxpayers $2.2 million a day.

Lawmakers with nuclear power plants, and those that have been decommissioned, will be hard-pressed to vote against a bill to revive licensing hearings on a desert site in Nevada that was initially deemed safe by the Energy Department.

More than $19 billion has been spent on research and site development, said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who argues that no more should be spent on a site located in an active seismic area with potential to pollute groundwater.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said she plans to meet with Alexander after the Senate returns from a Memorial Day recess.

Rosen has concerns about the Yucca Mountain location near the Nellis Air Force Range, a munitions testing area for combat aircraft.

“What’s in the center of Nevada? Seventy percent of our Air Force live munition (training) is at the Nevada test and training range. We’re the premier pilot training (schools) for the Air Force and the Navy,” Rosen said.

“Transporting nuclear waste through that could put our national security at risk,” she added.

United delegation

Rosen said the Nevada delegation, all six lawmakers in the House and Senate, were crucial in the House victory last week. She said she would enthusiastically carry that effort now to the Senate.

“This is a states’ rights issue. Why should one state be treated different from the others,” Rosen said of the decision in 1987 to designate Nevada as the sole site for permanent nuclear waste.

Not everyone in Nevada is opposed to Yucca Mountain. Nye County, where the site is located, and other rural counties, want licensing hearings to continue to determine if the location is safe, which could result in construction and high-paying jobs with increased tax revenues.

Proponents of Yucca Mountain can still try to amend the spending bill when it reaches the full House, although the likelihood that that would happen is slight because of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., whose congressional district includes Yucca Mountain, Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., and Titus met with Pelosi and enlisted her help in keeping funding out of the House spending bill.

President Donald Trump is seeking $116 million for licensing hearings and an interim storage study in his budget request for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1.

Regardless of how the Senate votes, the victory in the House Appropriations Committee gives leverage to keep spending out of a final House-Senate conference committee bill.

“I’m not letting my guard down just yet. There are still a few more hurdles for us to clear,” Lee said.

“When the president signs an appropriations bill without funding for Yucca Mountain, that’s when we will be able to finally declare a victory,” she 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
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.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Scholar Max Eden on how restorative justice decreases student achievement - VIDEO
Across the country, restorative justice is lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at schools. That’s according to Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, who recently released a study discipline reform.
Nevada broadens lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, retailers

The lawsuit names more than 40 defendants, including several prescription drug makers as well as distributors such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

Nevada gets $3M in settlement for ITT students

Attorney General Aaron Ford announced his office has reached a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, a company that offered loans for students attending ITT Tech that Ford called abusive.

Sisolak signs public records reform bill into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill that strengthens Nevada’s public records law, making it easier and cheaper for people to get public records and providing for fines if public agencies willfully flout the law.