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John L. Smith On Efforts To Revive Yucca Mountain


AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File

In this April 13, 2006, file photo, Pete Vavricka conducts an underground train from the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project seems to be stirring back to life in the first months of the Trump presidency.

Through the years, Yucca Mountain has cost nuclear energy ratepayers and taxpayers many billions of dollars, only to be essentially mothballed during the Obama Administration – thanks in large part to former Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

However, the latest effort to get the project going again is the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing on the proposed legislation.

Nevada’s congressional delegation spoke in opposition, but many industry and organized labor leaders called for renewed action to finish the licensing process and bring high-level nuclear waste to the nation’s only proposed storage facility.

Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith weighs in on the latest effort to move the project forward. 

You saw the hearing what was your impression. Is this project alive once again?

This is definitely the undead. The walking dead. There is no question in my mind from the smiles on the faces of some of the subcommittee members, the leader of the committee Shimkus of Illinois was particularly motivated and energetic about it.

Support comes from

Of course, Nevada’s delegation came out in strong opposition. Nevada’s delegation is not as strong as it used to be. It’s clear there’s deregulation in the air and there’s kind of a business climate in the air in Washington and I think this is one of those areas where Nevadans, who opposed the idea of Yucca Mountain, going forward this ought to motivate them at least from that one hearing.

Harry Reid said several times that Yucca Mountain is dead. How is this not dead?

I think what happens is things are only dead as long as they’re politically dead. As long as you’ve got the power, the political pulpit, then you can control the direction of things and I think under Senator Reid it was clear, especially with an ally in Barack Obama, because Obama himself is from a state that uses nuclear power. It’s not as if he didn’t have his own private thoughts and opinions on the use of nuclear power but out of that alliance came the stoppage of the Yucca process.

But it didn’t stop because of the science of it, it stopped because of the politics of it.

Dina Titus carrying the mantel from Harry Reid:

She’s a very forceful speaker when it comes to this issue. I think that she has her statistics together. She’s also written a book “Bombs in the Backyard.” She has a long history of study of this issue not just the science of it, but the politics of it. She’s well positioned to be a key player with this House bill.

It goes beyond birddogging it and following it, but you also have to have the numbers on your side and it is obvious right now that the Democrats are in the minority.

This is just about impossible to fast track. The idea that ‘Yucca is alive again! Two weeks from now they’re going to crack a bottle of champagne over the tunnel and open it up.’ It’s just not going to happen that way. Nevada has plenty of ways to intervene and it has practice intervening. There’s a lot of moving parts that are there a long way before this takes place.

Proponents argue that it is a necessity to have somewhere to store our nuclear waste, but opponents question how the waste would even get to Nevada, if the waste site at Yucca Mountain was built.

That’s a great point. How I’ve always perceived this is: Yucca is not such a bad place if you’re focused on reactors in the West. If you’re focused on storing reactor waste from the West makes sense because of the transportation issue.

But the idea of driving something from North Carolina or South Carolina or New Hampshire all the way to Nevada to store is absurd. It’s even for folks who are proponents of Yucca Mountain they look at it go: ‘Well come on! That’s a 2,500-mile jaunt what could possibly go wrong?’

Bundy Trial

Two people were convicted, but the judge declared a mistrial for four other people. Now, that retrial is set to start at the same time as members of the Bundy family are supposed to go on trial for their part in the standoff:

So far, the information as we speak today – the information is pretty limited coming from the U.S. Attorneys’ office. They’re talking about these things both happening on June 26. Hard to imagine they can do that without adding a ring to the circus, because that’s a lot of defendants at that point and a lot of different charges to be weighed.

I tend to think that there will be perhaps a reduction in charges. There will be a movement before the court in the next few days to try to consolidate and perhaps that will occur.

What is the second trial?

The second trial is really the main event trial of 17 defendants that are the names of people that people generally recognize: Cliven Bundy, Ammon, Ryan Bundy on trial as more or less, according to the government, the leaders of the conspiracy to get those cows back and use the folks with guns and to use their allies to intimidate federal officers. That’s really the crux of the case.

What did you learn from watching the first trial that will be at play in the second?

This is the interesting thing about the first trial and some point… it went on and on like Texas. There was a lot of audio and a lot of video and a lot of witnesses over a ten-week span. But what emerges from it is very much a picture of Pete Santilli. A lot of audio and a lot of video on Santilli, a lot of audio on Ryan Payne. A lot of Facebook posts. A lot of contacts. You begin to see the network form. A few of the Facebook and emails with very long list of different militia outfits from way back in Pennsylvania and Georgia all the way through Idaho and Oregon.


John L. Smith, contributor