The director and founder of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation said last Wednesday it will take a grassroots effort to convince politicians to open a nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain.
Invited to address members and guests at the monthly meeting of the Churchill County Central Republican Committee, Gary Duarte said storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada and operating nuclear plants are safer than using other forms of energy.
The Nye County site 90 miles north of Las Vegas remains designated as a permanent waste repository. Duarte, though, advocates the opening of Yucca Mountain as a viable location for storing spent nuclear fuel, and in the interim, favors a single or central above-ground temporary storage facility.
“This would be an ideal transfer location when we advance Yucca Mountain,” Duarte said, adding a good, interim location would be located in the desert like the Hawthorne Army Depot south of Fallon.
Duarte said the economy would be beneficial for a rural community like Hawthorne if a central location was established.
Renewed hope for establishing a nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain occurred earlier this year when newly-appointed Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at his confirmation hearing he would favor using Yucca Mountain as a repository and the Trump administration indicated it would include funding in its budget to start the planning process of opening the Yucca Mountain site. The Obama administration, however, dashed any plans to continue studies for a Yucca Mountain site in 2015. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto, and Southern Nevada’s congressional representatives don’t favor a Yucca Mountain site.
“Harry Reid (former Nevada U.S. senator) convinced the gaming industry that Yucca Mountain would kill tourism in this state,” Duarte said, adding the casinos have lobbied against opening a repository close to Las Vegas.
Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, CD-2, though, said he would favor additional scientific studies to determine the site’s feasibility.
“I have talked with him on several occasions,” Duarte said. “He seems willing to talk about it. The first step is critical.”
Duarte, though, said he’s disappointed with the rest of Nevada’s representatives because he feels they’re not making educated opinions. He encourages them to visit the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, which serves as the nation’s center for advanced nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment.
Because of the State of Nevada’s opposition, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported in a Feb. 17 story taxpayers have spent more than $15 billion in legal costs for the state to oppose Yucca Mountain as a repository site — but Duarte said that amount could jump to $20 billion by 2020.
“I am appealing to the grassroots citizens to move this public policy toward a logical resolution,” he added. “Energy’s the driver of all economies worldwide, and you can’t change that.”
Duarte said eight rural counties including Nye favor moving forward on a study to determine Yucca’s ability to store nuclear material. Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen supports reviving the Yucca Mountain site. He said opening Yucca Mountain would benefit the economy. A UNLV study concluded a Yucca Mountain repository would add $228 million to the state’s economy during construction and $127 million annually during its operation. Duarte, though, told the Fallon audience Yucca Mountain could generate trillions — not millions — of dollars.
Many locations around the country, said Duarte, store spent nuclear fuel on the sites of the nuclear reactor plants. The interim location would consolidate storage from the 72 locations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized many power plant owners to increase their storage pools because the amount of spent fuel has increased.
“Many plants have extended their licenses another 30 years,” Duarte said. “We have nuclear plants around the country that are overloaded with spent nuclear fuel from the original licensing applications that ran for the past 30 to 40 years.”
Duarte added a central location rather than separate sites could also provide the same amount of time for storage. He touted the safety of nuclear power plants, citing a World Health Organization 2010 study that shows more people die from health-related problems caused by coal than from hydroelectricity, solar, wind and nuclear. The WHO report stated 1.9 million people die annually as a result of coal-related pollution compared to 353 from nuclear power.