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The Department of Energy wants to store high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain for 100,000 years.
The next few weeks might give an indication of the likelihood of that happening.
Regulatory hearings, action in Congress, and the funding request for work at Yucca Mountain have happened or are expected soon, according to Bob Halstead, head of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
Halstead, who helps lead the state’s efforts to oppose Yucca Mountain, said the budget request could show the commitment in Washington to storing nuclear waste in Nevada.
He said his agency hasn't looked at the Department of Energy's budget request yet, but they expect it to look similar to last year's request, which allocated about a third of the budget to restarting the licensing of Yucca Mountain.
It is the money that opponents to the waste site believe have kept bills to revive it off the table.
Halstead said it will take $2 billion over the next five years just to restart the licensing process, which is why House leadership have been reluctant to bring Rep. John Shimkus, (R)-Illinois' bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain process to the floor for a vote.
The Yucca Mountain project has been debated for more than 30 years. President Barack Obama halted work on the effort, but President Donald Trump revived it.
Should it proceed, the eventual price tag is expected to top $100 billion and require spent fuel be brought from nuclear power plants all over the country to Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas.
The state and its leaders are working to stop the project on many levels.
The Nevada Congressional Delegation has introduced legislation in both the House and the Senate that would require Nevada, and neighboring state's that could be impacted, to consent to the program.
“It is simple, to the point legislation that says a written consent agreement must be obtained before any money from the Nuclear Waste Fund can be used for repository construction,” Halstead said.
A recent Reno Gazette-Journal editorial supported the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act and the state's continued fight against the repository. Halstead believes that support is important.
There is also a chance that private operators could be approved to hold the waste for an interim period of between 40 and 80 years.
Halstead said if that happens it would give Nevada some breathing room.
“It takes the urgency of forcing a bad site and a bad engineering plan forward," he said, "It takes that off the table.”
Halstead said that kind of time would allow everyone to re-evaluate the issue and perhaps find a better solution.
Halstead supports what a blue ribbon commission found on the nation's nuclear waste program that the entire program needed a complete revision but until legislation comes through to fix the whole program, "the state of Nevada is going to have to fight Yucca Mountain on the facts in the licensing proceeding,” Halstead said.
When long-time Nevada Senator Harry Reid retired many people were concerned that the state had lost its roadblock to the project. But Halstead believes the state is actually in a stronger spot than in the past.
“I think our position has never been stronger,” he said.
Halstead said the state's arguments against the project have been refined. They've heard and understood the arguments made by supporters of the project and the Legislature has voted overwhelmingly to continue the fight.
Bob Halstead, executive director, Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects
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