COMMENTARY: Nevada still has plenty of fight left in Yucca Mountain battle

Time and time again, Nevadans have made it clear that we will not allow our state to become the dumping ground for the country’s nuclear waste. We will not stand idly by while Washington bureaucrats ship radioactive materials straight through our neighborhoods. And we will fight any plan to store dangerous nuclear waste in a facility that sits on a seismically unsafe site and potentially threatens our water supply.

Our objections are not new. For more than 30 years, Nevadans have stood together to reject repeated attempts by outsiders to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, while the federal government and Washington bureaucrats have wasted $19 billion in taxpayer dollars on the project. Yet today, Yucca Mountain is nothing but a hole in the ground with rusted equipment. We — along with Gov. Steve Sisolak and our colleagues in Nevada’s congressional delegation — will use every tool available to ensure it stays that way.

The voices of Nevadans must be heard, which is why we’ve introduced legislation to ensure our state has a seat at the table in this decision. We’re calling on Congress to pass our Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which would require the federal government to get the support of local communities before nuclear waste can be stored in their backyards.

That’s because the Yucca Mountain repository site is too dangerous for long-term nuclear storage. The federal fantasy of storing waste at Yucca is based on dirty politics, not sound science. Yucca sits on active fault lines, has no state water permit, no railroad and no infrastructure. Any move to reactivate this failed project would be tied up in litigation for decades because a clear majority of Nevadans do not want nuclear waste in our backyards.

In addition to potentially threatening public health, Yucca Mountain is also a national security threat. The Nevada Test and Training Range is home to 75 percent of Air Force live munitions. That makes it the largest air and ground military training space in the contiguous United States. If Yucca were ever to hold nuclear waste, it would border the test and training range. This has led current and former military leaders, including the former secretary of the Air Force, to express concern that storing radioactive material at Yucca would disrupt vital military training and testing.

Despite all of these very real concerns, and in the face of bipartisan opposition for three decades by the state of Nevada, Trump administration officials and their allies in Congress are once again pushing their failed attempts to revive Yucca Mountain. Unfortunately, these folks seem to value states’ rights only when it is politically convenient.

Since the 1988 passage of the “Screw Nevada” amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the federal government has tried to force nuclear waste down our throats without our consent. We do not produce nuclear waste, why are they forcing it on us?

Consent-based siting is common sense. It would keep the federal government from repeating the $19 billion mistake it made trying to push Yucca Mountain through without any hope that the Silver State would allow the project. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future endorsed consent-based siting and concluded that consent must “enable states, tribes and communities to have confidence that they can protect the interests of their citizens.” The recently released “Reset of America’s Nuclear Waste Management” report likewise supports consent-based decision making and notes that this is the policy followed by every other nuclear nation that is successfully tackling the waste issue.

Even President Donald Trump, on a campaign stop in Elko, said he was inclined to oppose a nuclear repository in Nevada. He told the crowd that he thinks “you should do things where people want them to happen.” Well, Nevadans are calling on this president to tell that to his Energy secretary. The place for radioactive nuclear waste is not Nevada. We do not want to become a nuclear waste dumping ground.

No matter how many outsiders try to push this unsafe and unsound project, we will keep fighting to ensure it does not move forward. And as we look ahead to the 2020 election, anyone hoping to be a viable candidate for president in our state would be wise to oppose Yucca Mountain quickly, loudly and clearly.

The only viable long-term solution to nuclear storage is a consent-based process. When deciding the safest, most secure and most logical places to permanently store some of the country’s most dangerous waste materials, we must involve those most directly affected. Together, we are committing to take whatever procedural and legislative actions necessary to stop Yucca in its tracks. The voices of Nevadans will be heard.

Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, represents Nevada in the U.S. Senate. Dina Titus, a Democrat, represents Nevada’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House.

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