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Cracks in county’s Yucca support exposed

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen Tuesday accused the Obama administration of breaking the law in not completing the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, but for once his pro-nuclear comments didn’t go unchallenged by fellow board members.

Commission Chairman Butch Borasky indicated he underwent an epiphany on the nuclear waste repository after hearing of Nye County residents affected by radiation from previous weapons testing.

Schinhofen read into the record at the commissioners’ meeting his own letter to be sent to Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada congressional delegation, after they criticized a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Washington, D.C. Aug. 13 ordering the Yucca Mountain licensing process to be completed.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the 2-1 ruling by the court won’t mean anything since the project has been stripped of funding and the site padlocked. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only has $11 million to complete the licensing review.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she planned to write to the NRC with reasons why the site shouldn’t be licensed. U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev, said, “Yucca Mountain needs to be taken off the table once and for all.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he was “very disappointed” in the ruling. He added, “Forcing the NRC to revive the effort is an exercise in futility, a waste of money and an unproductive distraction from promising new efforts to real workable solutions.”

Nye County commissioners have never criticized the project before and have always appeared to support it, along with some neighboring rural counties. Schinhofen has been the standard flag bearer for the project since the defeat of Gary Hollis in the 2012 election. Schinhofen said the governor and federal delegation missed the point.

“I was greatly disappointed in the knee-jerk reaction by our governor and federal delegation to the court ruling on Yucca Mountain,” Schinhofen wrote. “As usual the first reaction was to say that Yucca Mountain will not go forward. There seems to be a disconnect between the decision and the responses.

“The decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals was based on the fact the Obama administration, the NRC broke the law by not moving forward with the licensing process as outlined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. I had hoped at least one of them would have stood up for the rule of law in the country, whether or not they believe Yucca Mountain is a good location for the disposal of nuclear waste was not the issue. By ignoring the law and not funding it, this administration has shown its total disregard for Congress and the rule of law.”

“All I have been asking for is let the science be heard and then if it’s found it can be constructed and operated safely that the State of Nevada should be compensated for it. The role of the executive branch is to uphold the laws, not to pick and choose which ones will be followed and which ones will not. This is a great opportunity to show the nation that Nevada understands the principles of our republic and stands behind the court decision,” he wrote.

In his remarks to commissioners, Schinhofen added the DOE recently agreed to offer $5.6 billion to a community hosting a temporary nuclear waste site. It could mean good paying jobs for Nye County, he said.

“This is just the opening bid on this, what could happen here,” Schinhofen said.

His unbridled enthusiasm however was dampened by Borasky’s remarks.

“I had a long chat with a couple of my neighbors the other day. That really makes me want to look at Yucca Mountain and radiation in a different light,” Borasky said. He referred to county residents, particularly in Beatty, and Nevada Test Site workers, who suffered from radiation after nuclear testing. The test site is now known as the Nevada National Security Site.

“I think before I commit myself to support Yucca Mountain or any other radiation related industry I’m definitely going to need some strict assurance it could be stored safely but definitely I’m going to do some research and find out what happened to Nye County and many of its citizens because of that facility,” Borasky said. “Many of these long-term residents over there, they’re dealing with cancer and lost loved ones.”

Yucca Mountain was supposed to hold 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste. Nye County joined in a lawsuit asking the NRC to resume the licensing process originally filed by Aiken County, S.C., home of the Savannah River nuclear facility, and Hanford, Wash., home of another nuclear site.

After Borasky’s surprise statement, Schinhofen backtracked from his previous remarks to indicate he wasn’t necessarily asking for the nuclear repository to be built.

“All this board has ever committed to was having the science heard. Just to be clear on that, we’re looking forward to having all the science heard before we move forward on that,” he said.

PVT staff members assisted in reporting this story.

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