Nevada lawmakers, tribal leaders and conservationists want 2020 presidential candidates to more boldly oppose Yucca Mountain.
“We need the candidates to understand that, a) we expect them to talk about Yucca Mountain and not shy away from discussing it when they come to Nevada, and b) we expect them to be bold in their statements in opposition to [storing nuclear waste at] Yucca Mountain,” said Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, at a panel hosted by the Nevada Conservation League last week.
Frustration over how candidates have spoken about Yucca Mountain thus far was on display at the panel when Rep. Dina Titus alluded to California Sen. Kamala Harris at a forum on climate change last week mistakenly claiming that the Trump administration put waste in Yucca Mountain in the middle of the night.
The Trump administration has not moved any nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. Harris likely conflated the issue of Yucca Mountain with news that in 2018 the federal government moved weapons-grade plutonium — not waste from commercial nuclear power plants — to a different location, the Nevada National Security Site, without alerting Nevada officials government.
“It is so easy to conflate the Nevada Test Site with Yucca Mountain and those issues tend to roll over on each other and some people still haven’t gotten straight what we’re doing at which place,” Titus said. “One presidential candidate who we think is very informed and comes from a nearby state was saying that in a recent forum, talking about the waste at Yucca Mountain. Well as has been pointed out, there is no waste at Yucca Mountain.”
Titus emphasized the importance of getting candidates and the public to understand the intricacies of Yucca Mountain and the consequences of its development.
“The fight is never over. We have to continue to be vigilant, to offer alternatives, to talk about the negative impacts this will have on the state,” said Titus. “And it’s not just Nevada — all roads lead here. This will affect every state where the railroad will travel. It’ll go right by their schools, their churches, their community centers.”
At least five current Democratic presidential candidates — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Harris — have signed on to Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s bill to force the federal government to request Nevada’s consent before storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg have also expressed their opposition to the federal government’s proposal, while Andrew Yang has said he supports it.
Titus also emphasized that even the fear of a nuclear accident would affect Southern Nevada’s tourism-reliant economy.
“You don’t even need an accident. All you’d need is a near accident to set off the fear of what would happen here,” Titus said. “If people think there might be radiation here and it might be dangerous, they’re not going to come.”
Yucca Mountain sits on Western Shoshone land. In the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863, the Western Shoshone Nation granted the federal government access to the area to build railways and mining operations, but maintain that they did not cede the land to U.S. control and as such critisize the lack of indigenous concent over Yucca Mountain’s development.
“As much as land belongs to any human being, this land does not belong to the federal government, it does not belong to the American people, it belongs to the Western Shoshone Nation,” said Mary Lou Anderson, a Western Shoshone leader during the panel.
Patrick Donnelly, State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, described the possible impacts to groundwater near Yucca Mountain.
“Nuclear radiation will really harm the species that rely on that water,” Donnelly said. The Department of Energy is “dumping nuclear waste above an aquifer and haven’t looked at what would happen to all of these endemic species if there’s an accident.”