Yucca not buried yet, official says

Nevada still has much work to do to bury the federal government’s plan for storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, the state’s Agency for Nuclear Projects chief said Tuesday.

The matter may wind up in a federal appeals court, depending on whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission overturns a licensing board’s rejection of the Energy Department’s request to end the Yucca project. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

Most of the work that lies ahead will be legal work, “and we may have to go back into licensing, which would be a long process and very expensive process,” said Bruce Breslow, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects.

His comments were made at a meeting of the Legislature’s Committee on High-Level Radioactive Waste. He also spoke on the possibility of reprocessing and recycling used nuclear fuel at the site, which also has legal issues.

“Some people have suggested during the primaries that Nevada would be a gold mine for reprocessing,” Breslow told the committee, which is led by Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas.

Breslow noted that it would violate federal law for Nevada to be an interim site for storing nuclear waste for reprocessing while Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is still designated as a permanent repository site.

In addition, there is no water available for constructing a large nuclear reactor at Yucca for reprocessing.

Breslow said scientists predict they will come up with better reprocessing systems in the next 20 to 50 years.

“There is a need to find a way to either burn up or more efficiently reuse spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste,” Breslow said. “There will be a solution. We’ve only had nuclear waste for less than 100 years, so give it some time.”

As for the billions of dollars that some Yucca Mountain proponents predict would flow into the state for mitigating impacts, Breslow said, “It’s fairy dust. People are making it up. They’re perpetuating a horrible myth. Nobody has offered Nevada any such offer in the last 27 years.”

Breslow said Nevada officials could sign an agreement to accept $10 million for mitigation until all of the waste is in the mountain and then $20 million a year afterward for mitigation if, “and this is a big ‘if,’ the state were willing to completely give up its independent oversight role and legal rights.”

“In other words, we couldn’t participate in licensing hearings, we couldn’t have oversight to make sure the public is safe,” he said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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