For more than 20 years, Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL., has been an advocate for making Yucca Mountain the nation’s nuclear waste repository.
He persevered during the Obama administration when the effort was declared dead. He then found an ally in President Donald Trump, who revived the Yucca Mountain Project three years ago.
But last week Trump reversed course and tweeted that he would not include funding for Yucca Mountain in this year’s budget request.
Shimkus told State of Nevada that a change in policy does not mean a change in law and that moving ahead at Yucca Mountain remains the law of the land.
“It didn’t shock me having been through this for a long time but it fundamentally does not change the law, which I think people have to understand,” he said.
He said the president can't stop the project because it is enshrined in law. In addition, the power of the purse belongs to the House, not the president, which means if Congress wanted to it could put money towards the project.
Shimkus does admit that it is unlikely to get that funding.
He does believe that presidents - Democrat or Republican - should get behind the project.
“I think any chief executive of this country who looks at the facts and understands the law of the land and wants to solve a promise that has left unfulfilled to 39 states, 121 communities, I think no one should be surprised if, eventually, this moves forward,” he said.
He said there is more nuclear waste stored in the Chicago area than in Nevada and more visitors come to Chicago every year than to Nevada.
Shimkus stands behind the scientific research into the waste site that took 30 years and $15 billion to put together. He believes the Nevada leaders who have fought the repository know that the science will stand the test of time and that is why they don't want the last court case on the issue to go through.
“They keep spinning these fears… as if they’re facts and we think the science debunks every one of them,” he said.
Wherever the debate on nuclear waste goes next, Shimkus won’t be a part of it. The Republican lawmaker is serving his last term in the House, where he has represented a downstate Illinois district since 1997.
“I would encourage my friends from Nevada not to party too much once I leave,” he said.
While the Yucca Mountain project seems stalled, Shimkus said he's been working on educating other members of the House about the problem of nuclear waste and finding permanent, long-term storage for it.
“What the Obama Administration wanted to happen was that we would just forget this. My success is making sure that we didn’t forget it,” he said.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL., Yucca Mountain supporter
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