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County funds Yucca contracts

Nye County is still funding consultant work for the all-but-dead Yucca Mountain project. Last week commissioners renewed 21 contracts, while Senate Republicans in Washington, D.C. threatened to resurrect the project.

Thirteen consultants received additional funding that collectively total $841,000. The county renewed contracts for all the consultants through June 30, 2014.

The request for funding from Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office Director Darrell Lacy states the agreements are to try to secure potential funds from the closure of Yucca Mountain and participate in any future decisions on the project.

Lacy emphasized to county commissioners the request doesn’t indicate Nye County thinks Yucca Mountain should be closed. He said the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which designated a geologic repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, is still the law of the land.

Lacy noted the total funding for the Yucca Mountain contracts decreased from an annual level of $1.7 million in previous years. The money comes out of oversight money funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Lacy added that many of the contractors don’t spend the total amount. He said last year contractors only spent 60 percent of their allotted amount.

“Some of these (contractors) we’re trying to keep on board for the shutdown of these programs or the availability if something happens on short notice,” Lacy said.

County commission nuclear waste liaison Dan Schinhofen said the consultants could help with the pending court case or the plan by the U.S. Department of Energy to bury uranium 235 at the Nevada National Security Site.

Contracts with additional funding include:

• The Las Vegas firm Terra Spectra Geomatics will pick up $250,000, increasing their total Yucca Mountain compensation to $1.06 million.

• Environmental compliance specialist Mary Ellen Giampaoli will receive another $120,000 for oversight, impact assessment, planning and other tasks.

• Jamieson Geological, policy analyst Casmier Jaszczak and Michael Voegele will each receive up to $72,000 contracts. Jamieson Geological’s original contract was to provide support for geologic testing and groundwater monitoring. Voegele is in charge of public information and outreach, policy formulation, planning and management support.

• The county will pay James Foster a $50,000 increase on his contract; he has worked mainly in the lab testing hydrologic properties of geological samples.

• Nye County will pay another $40,000 each to the county’s on-site DOE representative, Joseph Ziegler and to the Desert Research Institute to characterize microorganisms from Nye County wells and assessments using hydrologic tracers.

• Another $30,000 each will go to Geophysical Logging, which was contracted for well construction and other tasks and Norwest Corporation, a company which did aquifer testing, tracer testing and refined conceptual hydro geologic models.

• John Walton will be paid another $15,000; his specialty is ventilation modeling, groundwater chemistry monitoring and refining conceptual hydro geologic models.

• The University of Texas El Paso will receive another $10,000.

Schinhofen, an ardent Yucca Mountain advocate, said the federal government is spending money on interim storage of high level nuclear waste, which is prohibited under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. He repeated his request to the federal government to complete the licensing application for Yucca Mountain.

“After $15 billion and 30 years, can we please just hear the science and put this to bed? Those that are opposed to it, most notably (U.S. Sen.) Harry Reid, have refused to move forward to follow the law,” Schinhofen said.

Later he sought to clarify that that didn’t necessarily mean Nye County wanted the nuclear waste.

“All we’re asking is let’s hear the science on Yucca Mountain. We’re not saying send us anything,” Schinhofen said.

President Obama in 2009 zeroed out funds for the Yucca Mountain project. But a Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals still hasn’t rendered a decision on a writ of mandamus requesting the U.S. Department of Energy finish the license application.

A Republican-led House subcommittee last week approved $25 million in a 2014 energy spending bill to restart the licensing of Yucca Mountain, including $5 million for Nevada counties affected by the project.

“Someday people may thank us for keeping (the Yucca project) alive,” said U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the House Energy and Water subcommittee.

“We as taxpayers have invested about $15 billion,” Frelinghuysen said. “While I am aware of the home state anxiety, concern and opposition, we have an obligation to see what we can do to move a permanent repository forward.”

Lacy told county commissioners it was the third year in a row the House of Representatives attempted to put money in the budget for Yucca Mountain without any luck.

In a surprise development last week, Senate Republicans threatened to resurrect the project if Reid changes Senate rules that require 60 votes to break a filibuster. Reid has been an adamant Yucca opponent.

“Make no mistake, a vote to end the filibuster is a vote to complete Yucca Mountain,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We could get a bipartisan majority of 51 votes today in the United States Senate.”

“If we have 51 votes we can order the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a (Yucca Mountain) license,” he said.

Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, has been quarreling with Senate Republicans who have blocked President Barack Obama’s nominees to head the Department of Labor, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other posts. The revision of the rules has been referred to, ironically, as “the nuclear option.”

While Nye County supports the Yucca Mountain project, the state of Nevada and the state’s congressional delegation oppose it.

“For years, members of the entire Nevada delegation have put aside our political jerseys and worked together to ensure that the Yucca Mountain waste site would never open,” U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement. “It is important that Nevadans know that the inside-the-beltway debate about Senate rules could have very serious ramifications for Nevada and the opening of Yucca Mountain.”

The day after the threat by Senate Republicans, Nye County issued a statement that read, “Nye County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Andrew “Butch” Borasky reaffirmed that as long as it can be done safely, Nye County is willing to accept Department of Energy low level and high level radioactive waste disposal activities in Nye County.”

Stephens Media Washington D.C. correspondent Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.

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