LAS VEGAS — Nevada’s congressional delegation was close to united Thursday against President Donald Trump’s request for Congress to allocate $120 million to restart a licensing process for a national nuclear waste dump in the desert outside Las Vegas.
The state’s U.S. senators, Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, sent a letter to new Energy Secretary Rick Perry declaring the mothballed Yucca Mountain project is already dead.
“This reckless proposal will not revive it,” Heller declared. “Nevada has been saying for years: We will not be the nation’s nuclear waste dump.”
The three Democrats among the state’s four congressional representatives also expressed opposition to Trump’s budget request. Only Republican Rep. Mark Amodei did not issue an immediate comment. He has said he is open to completing Yucca Mountain’s licensing process.
Masto joined Heller in a statement that said Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings alone could cost more than $1.6 billion, which she said would be “a colossal waste of taxpayer money.”
Nevada is gearing up to add dozens more reasons to a list of 218 already accepted by the NRC about why transporting, storing and monitoring the most radioactive material in the U.S. cannot be done safely at Yucca Mountain.
Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Ruben Kihuen, and Jacky Rosen restated their opposition to accepting and entombing more than 77,000 tons of spent nuclear reactor fuel from more than 100 power plants and research facilities around the country.
Kihuen noted the Nevada delegation is sponsoring a bill, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, to prohibit the federal government from putting a repository in a state that doesn’t want it.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt joined in.
“For the remainder of my term, I will vigorously fight the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada,” said Sandoval in a statement. “Any attempt to resurrect this ill-conceived project will be met with relentless opposition and maximum resources.”
“Continuing down a path that seeks to force this unsafe and unwanted project on Nevada is a waste of time and money and only gets the country farther away from solving its nuclear waste problem,” Sandoval said.
Asked if a budget augmentation would be needed for the Nuclear Projects Office to fight the Trump proposal, Sandoval said no: “We’ve always anticipated this.”
The governor’s recommended budget for the office is $3.85 million over the biennium, about the same as the total current budget.
Laxalt also said his office has been working with Nuclear Projects to prepare for resumption of the battle to stop the waste dump.
The state has been fighting to block the project since Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the only site for the repository in 1987.
One of Sandoval’s predecessors, the late Republican Kenny Guinn, found in 2002 that the state could not veto congressional approval for the Yucca Mountain site, an arid former volcanic ridge first identified as a possible nuclear dump in 1982.
Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid in 2007 convinced Congress to cut off federal funding for Yucca Mountain. He declared the proposal dead, and the Energy Department under President Barack Obama shuttered the project in 2010.
A federal court in 2013 revived the proposal when it ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume the Yucca Mountain licensing process. It cited lawsuits by states and utilities promised a place to put their radioactive waste.
Texas this week lodged another lawsuit with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to spur the NRC to decide if Yucca Mountain is safe and should be licensed to accept spent nuclear fuel.
In Nevada’s rural Nye County which would be home to the repository, County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen welcomed the president’s budget request as a potential catalyst for job creation and infrastructure development.