weather icon Clear

Nevada, Capitol Hill could be growing apart on Yucca Mountain

With a change in U.S. Senate leadership after the midterm election, Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency chief Robert Halstead says he has been assured by the staffs of Nevada’s senators that both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, remain strongly opposed to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project and are “well-positioned and working together to protect Nevada’s interests.”

Halstead made the observation before last week’s state Commission on Nuclear Projects meeting in Las Vegas. The commission, with its chairman, former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, leading cheers, approved a 44-page report that was sent to Gov. Brian Sandoval and state lawmakers.

The annual assessment alerts them that the funding-starved Yucca Mountain project, which Reid had stymied during his eight-year reign as Senate majority leader, is not dead yet and they should press on with their opposition.

Otherwise the mountain 40 miles northeast of Tonopah could be put back on track by the Republican-controlled Congress to entomb tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive used fuel that is decaying while it continues to be stored temporarily at commercial power reactor sites in other states.

The federal government has spent roughly $14 billion of nuclear power ratepayers’ money studying Yucca Mountain for nearly a quarter of a century to determine whether it can contain spent fuel and highly radioactive defense wastes safely. Some of the money was used to dig a 5-mile exploratory tunnel.

If a license is granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the Department of Energy’s repository after surviving court battles and at least 219 technical challenges by Nevada over perceived flaws with the site and design of engineered barriers, work to build it would be just beginning. Almost $100 billion would have to be spent on drilling 55 miles of drifts off the main emplacement tunnel. The cost probably would include building a new rail line to haul waste to the remote site.

But as Nevada leaders say they remain vigilant on Yucca Mountain, there are small signs the landscape might be shifting in Washington on the nuclear waste site.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last week urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move forward on considering a license for the Nevada site. Murray, who is up for re-election in 2016, represents the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the government has struggled for years to clean up Cold War-era nuclear bomb waste. The waste once was destined for Yucca Mountain.

With the work the NRC has put in already on a Yucca Mountain application and with billions of dollars spent at Hanford and other nuclear waste sites, “it is imperative that the Yucca Mountain licensing application is thoroughly considered by the NRC,” Murray said in a letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane.

The letter from a senior Democrat serves as a reminder that the push to store nuclear waste in Nevada is not necessarily a partisan matter but rather pits the state against others that are holding radioactive material and want to get rid of it.

Murray also is in the Senate leadership. Her step away from Reid, who has worked to kill the Nevada site, garnered some notice in the nuclear industry and on Capitol Hill.

Observers are looking to see whether Reid, who lost some luster in the midterm elections and who will be in the minority in the next Congress, has lost a step on Yucca.

But it wasn’t the first time Murray has spoken out. In 2010, the last time she was up for re-election, she criticized the Obama administration’s shutdown of the Yucca site and sponsored an amendment that would have given the project $200 million to stay open. At the urging of Reid, Democrats killed it in the Appropriations Committee.

Reid’s office did not comment on the latest Murray letter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Bounty Hunter Saloon holding donation drive

The proprietor of a local bar is doing her best to keep the establishment above water amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Local Memorial Day remembrance services canceled

The last Monday in May is set aside for Americans to come together on Memorial Day to honor military personnel who died while serving in the armed forces.

Eight Republicans, six Democrats battling for Nevada’s Congressional District 4 nomination

The race for Congressional District 4 has a very large pool of contenders, including eight Republicans and six Democrats, all hoping to secure their party’s nomination this primary election. Those nominees will then head to the general election where they will battle it out with each other and two third-party candidates, Libertarian Jonathan Esteban and Independent American Party candidate Barry Rubinson.

Cox facing three opponents in re-election bid

In the 2020 Republican Primary race for Nye County Commission District 3, incumbent Donna Cox is facing three opponents, Louis “Louie” Baker, Deanna O’Donnell and John Wehrly. The winner of this match-up with then proceed to the general election and go up against Independent American Party candidate Lance Schaus.

Hafen and Bradley face off for Nevada Assembly District 36

Gregory Hafen II is aiming to keep and Dr. Joseph Bradley is striving to take the Assembly District 36 seat this year and as these are the only two candidates for this seat, the winner will be determined by the 2020 Republican Primary.

Five hopefuls eyeing commission district 1 seat

Nye County Commission District 1 is wide open this year, with current office holder Lorinda Wichman termed out and five new faces seeking the seat. The winner of the Republican primary for district 1 will then proceed to the general election where they will take on nonpartisan candidate Darryl Lackey.

Carbone challenging Koenig for Nye County Commission District 2

The 2020 Republican Primary is pitting former Nye County Commissioner Frank Carbone against incumbent John Koenig for the Nye County Commission District 2 seat and with just two candidates on the ballot, the man who takes this race will be determined by the results of the primary election.

Nye County primary elections underway

The 2020 primary is Tuesday, June 9 and the election is well underway, with Nye County residents poised to play their part in determining a variety of primary races this election cycle, including those for Nye County Commission District 1, 2 and 3, Nye County School District Board of Trustees Area VI, Nevada Assembly District 36 and Nevada Congressional District 4.