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Nuclear Waste Report Rekindles Yucca Mountain Fight

By Amy Harder

National Journal

WASHINGTON -- A dormant partisan battle over Yucca Mountain, the defunct nuclear waste repository site in Nevada, is likely to flare up in the House after the release of a report, due on Thursday, that’s expected to say America needs to find a permanent place to store its nuclear waste (see GSN, July 29, 2011).

Representative John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Environment and Economy Subcommittee, will hold a hearing on the report next Wednesday. As a preview, Shimkus took to the House floor on Wednesday to list several nuclear plants and other sites throughout the country that are currently storing waste since Yucca Mountain is no longer an option. President Obama has suspended work on the Nevada repository.

“Why have we not moved forward on Yucca Mountain? And the answer is pretty clear,” Shimkus said in a floor speech. “When this administration was running for the presidency [Obama], wanting to get the support from the senior senator from the state of Nevada, promised not to move forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is one of the staunchest opponents of Yucca Mountain, which would have stored all of the nation’s waste underneath a mountain in the desert 90 miles from Las Vegas. Obama campaigned on the promise that he would close Yucca if he became president, and true to his word, he started to close out funding for the project soon after he entered the White House. Congress initially established Yucca Mountain as its nuclear waste repository site in a 1987 law, and it had been winding its way through regulatory and legal hurdles leading up to Obama’s decision to scuttle it.

The new report, written by Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, was required as part of a presidential memorandum in January 2010 to look at long-term solutions to America’s nuclear waste after Obama decided Yucca was not an option. Shimkus told reporters in a briefing later on Wednesday that the new report will say the nation needs to find a single, permanent place to store its nuclear waste. It is expected to be similar to the draft report the commission released last summer, which recommended interim storage sites that could consolidate the waste in fewer places around the country.

“What I have done in my times coming to the floor is go around the country and highlight where nuclear waste sites are and compare it to where we by federal law have stated our nuclear waste should be stored,” Shimkus said at the onset of his 30-minute speech.

Most congressional Democrats have backed the administration’s decision to scuttle Yucca Mountain. The administration’s reasoning, however, isn’t clear. Senior officials have given different reasons, including arguments that more updated science showed Yucca was a bad location and that the Yucca selection process had not been thorough enough and had not included enough feedback from Nevadans.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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