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U.S. House lawmakers decry federal inaction on Yucca Mountain

U.S. House lawmakers with nuclear power plants in their congressional districts this week decried federal failure to license and construct a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain as two Nevada congresswomen argued against storing waste in the state.

“The majority of Nevadans agree that storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain is not a viable or sustainable solution,” said U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, in a letter to House and Senate appropriators urging them not to include funds for the project in an upcoming spending bill.

But U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois., led a bipartisan group of lawmakers giving House floor speeches Monday about their concern over stockpiles of nuclear waste building up in states because of federal inaction. Federal taxpayers face a liability because of the government’s failure to construct and safely dispose of nuclear waste, as required by law, the lawmakers said. Shimkus has a bill that would streamline the licensing of the Yucca Mountain facility, which is needed to begin construction on the facility located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., spoke before the lawmakers and reiterated the opposition in Nevada to storing nuclear waste produced in other states.

“Nevada is not a wasteland,” Titus said from the floor. Titus has filed a bill that would require the federal government to get consent from states and local communities as a prerequisite to building a nuclear waste facility.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and the majority of the Nevada congressional delegation, including Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto, oppose federal efforts to open Yucca Mountain.

Nye County and other rural Nevada counties favor continued efforts to determine if Yucca Mountain is safe for nuclear waste storage. Proponents also argue the repository would bring high-paying jobs to the region.

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress as the national repository for nuclear waste in 1987. The Department of Energy spent $15 billion to study the site and applied for a license to construct a repository.

But President Barack Obama stopped funding for the licensing application in 2011.

President Donald Trump is seeking to restart the licensing process and included $120 million for it in the DOE budget.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must adjudicate challenges to the license, is seeking $47 million for the licensing process on Yucca Mountain.

Shimkus is the author of a bill that would authorize spending to restart the process. The bill has 109 House co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, and has been passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a 49-4 vote. It must still be approved by the full House.

The Senate has yet to develop legislation to restart licensing at Yucca Mountain. Key Senate lawmakers want a nuclear waste policy that develops interim storage sites in other states, as well as the Nevada location for permanent storage.

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