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Reid takes shots at GOP campaign talk on Yucca

A couple of Republican presidential hopefuls have ventured into Nevada-dicey territory by talking about Yucca Mountain and giving U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the state’s top Democrat, an opening to take some shots.

Campaigning May 9 in Greenville, S.C., U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told a reporter he supported completing the controversial Nevada nuclear waste site that was picked by Congress but mothballed by the Obama administration five years ago.

“Yucca Mountain is the place that’s gotten the money, and it was chosen years ago,” Rubio said. “So unless someone can identify a better project, that’s the one we should move forward on.”

The answer played well in South Carolina (nine electoral votes), where nuclear waste is accumulating at the Savannah River Site and awaiting shipment elsewhere. But also taking note were Democrats in Nevada (six electoral votes), who oppose the site and see that stance as a political winner for them.

Rubio’s remarks also made for an awkward debut of Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who had just been named chairman of Rubio’s campaign in Nevada. Hutchison said the candidate would be in the state soon, and “we’ll talk.”

A few days later in Reno, Jeb Bush told reporters he doesn’t think a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository would ever be opened because Nevada doesn’t want it.

“I think we need to move to a system where the communities and states want it,” the former Florida governor said. “It’s a system where instead of having it forced down the throats of people, that there is a consensus inside the communities and states that they want it and they proactively go for it.

“Whether that’s going to be here or some other state over the long haul — we need to have a long-term solution for sure,” Bush said. “But the one that started a long, long time ago that is stalled out is not going to be the one in the immediate future.”

Bush’s comments echoed the recommendations of the recent blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste and the policy of the Obama administration. But soon afterward Nevada political blogger and TV host Jon Ralston reminded that Bush is a member of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition that is backed by the Nuclear Energy Institute that has advocated for construction of the Yucca site.

Bush in 2006 also signed a letter with 16 other governors cautioning Congress against policies that might undermine development of a nuclear waste repository, which at the time meant Yucca Mountain.

Bush spokeswoman Emily Benavides said the unofficial candidate gave a clear answer on his Yucca Mountain position. The Bush campaign said he supports nuclear power but disagrees with the coalition on Yucca.

But Reid saw the opening and went for it.

“Let this be a warning to Republican presidential candidates as they make their way to Nevada: Google exists and you cannot hide from your past positions on Yucca Mountain,” he said in a statement Thursday released by the Nevada Democratic Party.

“Let me be as clear as can be. Yucca Mountain is dead. It is not coming back,” Reid said. “And I dare any Republican to step foot in Nevada and declare their support for it.”

Reid long ago made clear to Democratic presidential candidates what they need to say about Yucca Mountain to play in Nevada. In 2008, Hillary Clinton said, “When I am president, Yucca Mountain will be off the table forever.”

Her campaign was queried Friday whether that remains her position but did not comment.

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