Nevada senators stand ground against Yucca Mountain repository

U.S. Senator Dean Heller, R-Nev., and other federal lawmakers in Nevada continue to stand their ground on the battle over Yucca Mountain.

Heller called the transportation of high-level nuclear waste across the country a health issue during a press call on Wednesday with reporters from Nevada’s rural newspapers. A reporter from the Pahrump Valley Times participated in the call.

“The question isn’t whether there’s going to be an accident,” Heller said. “The question is how big is that accident going to be? What will the impact be on Clark County?”

“That’s the last thing we need is a nuclear accident in our largest county,” he said.

Heller’s comments came just days after a dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives toured the site of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on July 14. The congressmen, including U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., are all in favor of transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

Shimkus sponsored a bill in the House that passed in May concerning Yucca Mountain. The legislation, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act (H.R. 3053), streamlines the licensing process on the Energy Department’s application to build a repository.

“They had a Yucca Mountain on the House side of the Capitol building this year; getting that language in there, getting the funding in there, they had a party at the expense of the state of Nevada, and I take offense to that,” Heller said. “You will not see a Yucca party on the Senate side at the Capitol as long as I’m a United States senator.”

Heller put a news release out prior to Shimkus and other congressmen coming to Nevada for a tour of Yucca Mountain.

“Americans shouldn’t have to pay for his (Shimkus’) congressional vacation to Las Vegas,” Heller said in a July 18 news release. “His legislation is going nowhere and despite repeated attempts to fund Yucca Mountain in the House of Representatives, I’ve killed their efforts each and every time.”

Several other federal regulators from Nevada put out statements opposing the visit to Yucca Mountain.

“Yucca Mountain has always been a misguided and dangerous project,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. “Nevadans don’t want nuclear waste in their backyard and our congressional delegation remains united in ensuring that Yucca remains nothing but a hole in the ground.”

Masto went on to say that, “Congress has wasted $15 billion in taxpayer dollars on Yucca over decades, the result has been as fruitless and empty as the site itself. Yucca is going nowhere, and I will use every procedural step in the Senate to ensure it stays that way.”

No federal lawmakers from Nevada were on the July 14 Yucca Mountain tour.

“There’s a lot of plans out there. I even have language. I have a one sentence amendment to the legislation, and that is you have to get consent from the state,” he said. “I think that’s pretty reasonable for a state like Nevada that doesn’t produce any nuclear waste. I think they need to have a voice as to whether or not they take it.”

Heller said that other states want the nuclear waste.

“Why don’t we give it to states that want it as opposed to states that don’t want it?”

Private companies outside of Nevada are looking to house nuclear waste in interim storage facilities.

Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists have created a joint venture with the intent to license an interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel at Waste Control’s existing facility in Andrews County, Texas. Waste Control treats, stores and disposes of Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste, according to a news release from the company.

“The joint venture will provide safety, flexibility and value for used nuclear fuel titleholders and reduce U.S. taxpayer liabilities for ongoing storage, while plans for a permanent federal repository continue,” said Sam Shakir, CEO of Orano USA, in a news release in March 2018.

Another company named Holtec International is working with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to construct an interim spent fuel storage facility in southeast New Mexico. That facility will eventually be able to hold 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste, according to a news release from Holtec.

The House’s recent legislation on the Yucca Mountain site calls for the permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste and moves the storage capacity from 70,000 metric tons to 110,000 metric tons.

Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at

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