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Richard Bryan, who fought the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository as Nevada’s governor and in the U.S. Senate, says the Trump administration wants to make a down payment on restarting work on the site 100 miles from Las Vegas.
He said the president’s $120 million budget request is a sign that “very clearly they want to restart the project.” However, Bryan, who now heads the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, said the money sought is a fraction of what’s needed.
“In order for this project to really get going, it’s going to take much, much more than that,” Bryan said on State of Nevada. “We’re talking about probably a couple of billion dollars or so over a period of a few years.”
Bryan said he agrees with a recent Government Accountability Office report that says the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to extensively rebuild their capabilities to continue work at the site.
President Barack Obama mothballed work on Yucca Mountain early in his administration. It remains the only site under consideration for long-term nuclear waste storage.
Bryan said he suspects resolving the storage issue is part of a strategy by nuclear energy advocates to revive the industry.
“They believe, I think it’s misguided, that somehow if they got the nuclear dump open in Nevada that somehow that would re-energize – if you’ll pardon the reference – the nuclear industry,” he said.
However, he believes the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 along with the global move toward green energy makes it unlikely the nuclear energy industry will get a new burst of life.
Last month, KNPR's State of Nevada spoke with Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen about his support for the project. Bryan understands why Schinhofen and officials in rural counties, who want the project to move forward, support it, but he believes there is a lot more at stake than jobs.
“They think it’s a jobs issue," Bryan said, "They think it’s an economic benefit. I don’t think so, personally. But in my view, public safety is the paramount concern.”
During his interview, Schinhofen said national labs and scientists have shown that the site is a safe place to store high-level nuclear waste. However, Bryan said he doesn't believe those scientists have the "health and safety of Nevadans" as their only interest.
“I don’t think for one moment that Nevadans should put their trust and confidence in an agency who by in large historically has pushed and pushed hard," he said, "They tried to reduce the safety standards when I was in the Senate. That is to make it easier to site.”
Bryan said state scientists, who do have the safety and health of Nevadans as their main focus, have shown the site not to be safe. He said the people trying to get the project open aren't bad people they're just trying to make the project work at all costs.
Congress has yet to act on the Yucca Mountain budget proposal. Bryan predicted some funds would eventually be appropriated.
Richard Bryan, chairman, Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects