Yucca visit by federal lawmakers set for Thursday

WASHINGTON — A federal delegation organized by the Department of Energy is scheduled to visit Yucca Mountain on Thursday.

The group will be led by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and include Reps. Cresent Hardy and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., Bob Latta, R-Ohio, Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

Hardy, whose 4th Congressional District includes Nye County where the nuclear waste site is located, has called for an “honest discussion” with the federal government over burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain to determine if citizens might want it and what benefits the state might obtain for hosting it.

Nevada’s Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said in March they would not attend the tour.

Shimkus, chairman of the House environment and the economy subcommittee, is trying to revive the Yucca program and hopes the trip will spark new interest in the shuttered nuclear waste site.

Meanwhile, a Nevada bid to send a scientific representative on the trip was turned down Monday by organizers who said there was no room on the tour of the nuclear waste site.

The executive director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects offered to have Steve Frishman, a geology consultant, accompany the half-dozen lawmakers scheduled to examine the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Thursday.

In a letter Monday, Shimkus told agency director Robert Halstead there was no room on the tour being arranged through the Department of Energy.

“I am grateful for your generous offer of Mr. Frishman’s time; however DOE’s current itinerary for the tour is fully subscribed,” Shimkus wrote.

Shimkus, whose state is a leading producer of electricity from nuclear energy, has said the Yucca Mountain tour was aimed at showcasing the site for a possible revival after it was shuttered by the Obama administration in 2010.

The government spent more than 20 years and $15 billion to study Yucca as a potential repository for used fuel from nuclear power plants as well as waste from nuclear weapons production.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff report released in volumes over recent months concluded Yucca Mountain might hold the highly radioactive material safely for periods up to a million years, giving new wind to Shimkus and others supportive of resurrecting the program.

Frishman likely would have provided a competing view. He has been one of Nevada’s leading technical experts as it built an argument that the Yucca site is unsafe. The geologist also sought to accompany Shimkus on a previous visit to Yucca Mountain in 2011 but was rejected.

“No matter how intense this fight is, I think it is really useful for people to have honest discussions with one another,” Halstead said Monday. “I think it would be useful for them to hear our view of what’s going on with the safety debate, where the questions are and what the reality is here.”

The state agency is not the only one being denied a slot on the tour. A request by Nye County to have a representative was also denied.

Counting aides and Department of Energy chaperones, it could not be immediately determined how many people were to be on the tour. A small number of news reporters also was scheduled to go along.