Slashing Nuclear Projects budget irks lawmakers |

Slashing Nuclear Projects budget irks lawmakers

Members of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday questioned the governor’s decision to slash the Nuclear Projects office budget just as the formal process of licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository begins.

Reducing seven employees to two would save more than $1.2 million over the biennium and was based on the idea that contractors do most of the agency’s work.

“We have fought (Yucca Mountain) since 1983, then all of a sudden, in the most crucial part of it … we say, ‘Hey, we don’t need these people, let’s get rid of them,'” said Finance Chairwoman Bernice Mathews, D-Reno.

“If the dump is approved, we’ll become the garbage dump of America,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, whose district includes Yucca Mountain. “Anything nobody wants in America, they’ll ship to Nevada.”

Director of Administration Andrew Clinger and Nuclear Projects director Bruce Breslow staved off some criticism by telling the committee the budget will be revised once auditors complete a review of the office’s needs and staffing.

Breslow said the governor’s office has assured him once the audit is done, they’ll be flexible in determining what changes to make.

But that drew a skeptical response from Mathews.

“You recommend the cuts before you do the audit? That sounds like the cart before the horse,” she said.

“Somehow the governor’s office has a political tin ear on this issue,” said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who has been in the Legislature since 1983. “We have a promise and he has a promise to the people of Nevada to keep, not to himself about his political career.”

He said even suggesting that major cut in the office charged with fighting Yucca Mountain sends a dangerous message to lobbyists for the nuclear power industry.

“You sent a signal to them big time that Nevada is quitting,” he said.

Breslow, who was appointed to the director’s post just four weeks ago, said he agrees with Coffin the state must fight and win the battle to block Yucca Mountain. And he promised to advise them of any changes in his proposed budget as soon as possible.

At the same time, Republican Assemblyman Ty Cobb of Reno issued a call for Nevada to begin negotiating with the federal government over the future of Yucca Mountain.

“It’s time to put away the rhetoric and start dealing with facts,” he said in a prepared statement.

He said safety comes first but that the state needs to “refocus Yucca away from its stated purpose of serving as a long term repository.”

Cobb said Yucca Mountain should be an interim storage site with the government and nuclear industry working on ways to better reprocess the waste.

In addition to getting rid of up to 90 percent of the waste, he said that would provide hundreds of high technology jobs in Nevada.