Nevada senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen testified against the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019 during a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) Tuesday. The measure would restart the process of attempting to license nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain.
Cortez Masto told the committee people “falsely” believe Yucca Mountain is prepared for nuclear waste disposal, adding that there are “no waste disposal tunnels. No waste handling facilities. No monitoring infrastructure. No containment infrastructure. No railroad infrastructure needed for transporting waste into the site.”
Calling Yucca Mountain “a five mile exploratory hole in the ground” and a “national security threat” Cortez Masto said that seismic activity and the area’s penchant for earthquakes, as well as it’s position over an aquifer, makes it unsuitable as nuclear waste repository.
“For over 30 years, many in Congress have been trying to force a repository facility on Nevada, despite the fact that Nevada does not generate or consume nuclear energy, and that Yucca Mountain is a seismically and geologically unfit site to store this dangerous material,” Cortez Masto said.
“I ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of Nevadans. Imagine having nuclear waste sent to your communities without your input, without a fair process.”
EPW Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) is reviving legislation intended to move toward storing nuclear waste in Nevada.
The draft bill is nearly identical to the same-named legislation passed by the House of Representatives last year by a vote of 340 to 72.
“If we are serious about addressing climate change we must be serious about preserving and expanding nuclear energy use,” Barrasso said during the hearing. “That means keeping our commitment to the 121 communities in 39 states where nuclear waste is located.”
According to Cortez Masto, former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that if nuclear waste were stored in Yucca Mountain, it would harm the military’s ability to train for combat due to its proximity to the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Cortez Masto pushed instead for legislation she introduced with Rosen which would require the federal government to obtain the consent of a potential host state before moving forward.
That legislation is also co-sponsored by several senators who are running for president:Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
In a statement Wednesday, Sanders called the move to send nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain “a geological, environmental and social disaster.”
“It is completely unacceptable to violate tribal treaty rights and the will of ordinary Nevadans by constructing a permanent spent-fuel repository at Yucca Mountain,” Sanders said. “We must abandon the idea that Yucca Mountain can solve our nuclear waste problems, stop building new nuclear power plants and find a real solution to our existing nuclear waste problem.”
Rosen echoed Cortez Masto’s rejection of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, saying efforts to restart funding for the licensing the project is “placing the entire burden on Nevada, and we don’t even produce nuclear energy.”
“Once again, this bill further takes away Nevada’s voice by moving forward with the Yucca Mountain project without a consent-based process in place,” said Rosen. “Nevada does not want – nor has ever wanted – to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.”
Rosen said much of the transported waste would travel through Las Vegas and dozens of other major cities across this country, putting the safety and public health of millions at risk.
“That nuclear waste would be transported weekly through a total of 44 states including many represented on this committee today: Wyoming, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho and all the rest,” Rosen said. “It is hard to imagine that shipping over 5,000 truck casks of high-level nuclear waste over a span of 50 years, won’t result in at least one radiological release somewhere in this country.”
In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, requiring the establishment of 2 repositories — one on each side of the country— to store nuclear waste. A second repository site was never identified – unraveling a key compromise of the original law. Congress eventually designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site for nuclear waste disposal, despite strong opposition from the State of Nevada.