COMMENTARY: Nevada officials play politics with Yucca Mountain

Why does Nevada continue to fight federal law, putting the citizens of not only the state but the nation at risk?

Last week, the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects gave a presentation to state lawmakers that, in short, revealed they will continue to push back against the Department of Energy on Yucca Mountain. All this is done by spending state taxpayer money instead of leveraging federal money that is available to finish the science for Yucca Mountain.

The costs so far for Yucca Mountain have been substantial. The cost of walking away is even higher. While the legislative committee heard the agency’s Bob Halstead repeat much of his mantra of doom and gloom, there is a reason that some of the rural counties — including Nye, where the project is based — are asking for the science to be heard. The rule of law and getting the science heard by a competent body is another.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act has been the law for 35 years and was amended once in 1987. Of course, the act is referred to for public-relations, scare-the-citizens purposes as the “Screw Nevada Bill.” Since that time, those in state and federal positions have used this issue to grandstand and win elections.

Instead of deferring to nuclear science, these critics would rather rely on political science.

Since 2001, the state has spent $50 million of our local tax money fighting this project. State officials continue to say they oppose it because it is not safe. Now they are asking for another $50 million. There is a way to move past Yucca Mountain (do the science), but the state refuses to allow it to happen.

Mr. Halstead has stated on more than one occasion hat he welcomes the opportunity to contest the 218 elements of the Department of Energy license application, restating that point last week. Yet state officials refuse to ask for the hearings that can prove them right. (Or are they afraid they are wrong?)

When the funding was cut and the license application illegally pulled by the Obama administration, Southern Nevada lost nearly 2,500 jobs, many in Nye County. The project was stripped of all the offices and equipment. Now state officials can say, “Look there is nothing there but a tunnel,” going as far as listing what the site doesn’t have.

The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects continues to have one job: block the Yucca project, thereby preventing jobs and economic development in a rural region and state in need of jobs and economic development. Ironically, Gov. Brian Sandoval met with the Energy Department two years ago and agreed to place nuclear waste (uranium-233 and uranium-235) into shallow trenches in the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site just down the road from Yucca Mountain on the Nevada National Security Site — closer to Las Vegas. U233/235 is as hot as anything that will go into Yucca.

The only issues that need to be cleared up are land transfers between federal agencies and water that is available and is used at Area 5. Of course, the rail hasn’t been built yet, and the funds to do all of this are on deposit with the federal government to the tune of about $35 billion. While the state and federal governments continue to hold this up, there is about $750 million a year that is not being collected to build and maintain this project.

A multigenerational $100 billion project is being delayed because politicians would rather rely on scare tactics and political posturing over real science.

Rather than sit down at the table and have a discussion on Yucca Mountain, like they did with Area 5, state officials want to continue to tell us the science doesn’t support it. Nevadans deserve to hear the science before we walk away from a $15 billion investment that could bring jobs and infrastructure that are desperately needed, especially in the rural communities. When did Nevada become against jobs and economic development?

Blocking Yucca Mountain does not change the fact that there are orphan nuclear power plants near waterways, leaving the spent fuel vulnerable to attack outside a national security site. This is a national security issue and as such deserves to have the hearings move forward.

Nye County, where the project is located, supports this sensible solution.

Dan Schinhofen is chairman of the Nye County Commission.

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