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The congressman many in Nevada contend is leading the charge to entomb nuclear waste 100 miles from Las Vegas says he’s only following the law.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., told KNPR's State of Nevada that 1987 legislation identifying Yucca Mountain as the sole site under study as a nuclear waste repository remained “the law of the land,” even though work there was halted by President Barack Obama.
“The law had never changed. There may have been a pause button, but it was never officially stopped by changing the law,” he said.
And it is not just about the spent fuel from nuclear power plants, the congressman said, but it is also about Defense Department waste from nuclear activities in World War II.
“A lot of people focus on spent nuclear fuel aspects of it but this also is very important for the defense waste from the nuclear era of winning World War II against Japan,” he said.
The federal government has spent the past 30 years and approximately $15 billion to establish Yucca Mountain as the storage site for the nation's nuclear waste.
Shimkus, who represents rural downstate Illinois, is pursuing a bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would restart the licensing process to determine Yucca Mountain’s suitability.
“We’re fighting through the Nevada delegation just to have the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] adjudicate the scientific claims put forth by the state of Nevada,” he said.
Shimkus isn't the only one who wants to see the science on the site move forward Nye County along with other rural counties want the investigation to continue. Many leaders of those counties feel they'll get benefits, including direct money from the government, for taking the waste. Shimkus said while there aren't benefits for Nevada written into the current law, he is pushing for those benefits to be part of any future legislation on the matter.
He said if scientific investigation uncovers problems with the site, he would be willing to abandon efforts at Yucca, but nothing he has seen so far has caused him concern.
“It’s on federal property; it’s in a desert; the location would be inside a mountain,” he said. “If there’s a safer place in the world, I’m not sure where that is.”
(Editor's Note: This interview originally aired August 2017)
Rep. John Shimkus R-Illinois, Yucca Mtn waste repository proponent