Heck suggests using money for research, not Yucca Mountain

A federal appeals court ruling last week gave a green light to restart licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site but without funding the process will remain stalled, Nevada Rep. Joe Heck said Tuesday.

Instead of using the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s remaining $11.1 million “to move forward with the licensing process until there is no more money in the pot,” Heck, R-Nev., suggested Congress use that money to explore transmutation, which would reduce the quantity and potency of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors.

“I still think, regardless of the (licensing) process, that storing high-level nuclear waste in a hole in the ground is a 20th century solution that might have been state-of-the-art when this whole debate first started back in the mid-80s. But we’ve got to look for something that is a 21st century solution,” Heck said during a meeting with the Review-Journal’s editorial board.

“And that’s why during the debate on the energy and water bill I tried to take that money that was going to licensing and put it towards what’s called accelerated transmutation,” he said.

Research into transmutation could put the shuttered Yucca Mountain site to use while scientists at University of Nevada, Las Vegas continue to work toward advancing the technology.

“It’s a research project. Eventually it could be done on site,” he said, referring to the mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

As for the Department of Energy’s plans to bring long-lived, low-level uranium waste from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to the Nevada National Security Site instead of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, Heck said the issue rests with DOE.

“Just as they kind of rewrote the rules for low-level to get it here, they could have just as easily rewritten the rule to get it to the isolation plant in New Mexico,” he said.

“Unfortunately, while the state of Nevada has the ability to offer an opinion, it’s not binding on the Department of Energy as to what they’re going to do with the waste product.”

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

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