Bryan Says Nevada Ready To Fight If GOP Reboots Yucca Mountain


Isaac Breekken/AP

The Obama administration canceled plans to make Yucca Mountain the permanent storage site for the nation's nuclear waste. The half-built site is seen here in a file photo from 2006.

In 1987, then-Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan gave up his boyhood dream job and ran for the Senate to fight storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, less than 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“I made the decision that I would leave to try to in effect to shore up our opposition,” Bryan told KNPR's State of Nevada.


Gov. Richard Bryan unveils the “Highway 50 Survival Kit” to promote rural Nevada tourism after Life magazine in 1986 declared Nevada’s stretch of U.S. 50 “the loneliest road in America.” Bryan says he aspired to be governor since he was a boy but gave up the job to run for the Senate and oppose the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository./Credit: Nevada State Library and Archives

Thirty years — and two Senate terms later — Bryan is still fighting, now as chairman of the state’s Commission on Nuclear Projects. He and the commission are watching for signs that President Donald Trump’s administration might seek to restart work at Yucca Mountain, which was defunded in 2011.

Since then Republicans have gained control of the White House and Congress, and the GOP is seen as friendlier toward nuclear power than are Democrats. Its 2016 platform pledges to “end the administration’s disregard of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste.”

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“I’m cautiously optimistic, but clearly there’s a sea change that’s occurred with Reid, with the power that he had as the majority leader and later as the minority leader, to hold all the Democrats together," he said, "I think our situation is much more tenuous that is been in the past.”  

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, dubbed the “Screw Nevada bill,” designates Yucca Mountain as the only site to be looked at for storage of high-level nuclear waste.

“The decision to make Nevada and Yucca Mountain the only site to be considered had nothing to do with science," Bryan said, "It was pure naked politics.”

He said the nuclear energy industry was pushing for the waste to go somewhere so it could continue to grow. Bryan said the hypocrisy of the lawmakers who "bulldozed" Nevada but refused for their states to be considered was something people in the state especially resented. 

Reviving Yucca Mountain would cost billions, and Bryan said that might give pause to Republican budget hawks. Bryan said there is a lot left to do at at the site. 

Despite the expense, Bryan expects some people in Washington to try to bring it back to life.

“I anticipate that there will be an effort to revive it," he said, "I think clearly without Sen. Reid’s influence that there will be an attempt by some to move forward on the project.”

Still, he said if Yucca Mountain legislation begins to move through Congress, the state stands ready to combat the effort in court.


Richard Bryan, former Nevada governor and senator

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