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In Renewed Yucca Mountain Effort, Nevada Battles On Multiple Fronts

The effort to turn Yucca Mountain into the nation’s nuclear waste repository went mostly dormant during the Obama administration.

These days not so much.

Nevada is engaged in a multi-front fight to thwart legislative, administrative, and judicial action to revive the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

This week, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said the government had a “moral obligation” to find a permanent home for the tons of highly radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants.

Perry also surprised some state officials when he suggested the Nevada National Security Site — the old Nevada Test Site — should be considered for interim storage of radioactive waste.

“No, I’m not surprised, but yes I am appalled,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-NV., told KNPR's State of Nevada of Perry's suggestion.

She pointed out that Perry would have to change federal law to temporarily store waste on the former test site. Bob Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said Perry's suggestion puts the conversation off track.

“We don’t want to be distracted by Sec. Perry’s latest dancing with stars in his eyes pronouncement,” he said, a reference to Perry's time on the popular show "Dancing with the Stars."

He said no one is exactly sure what the secretary's point was and the real problem is the groundwater. 

A House subcommittee approved earlier this month legislation that would strip Nevada of some the weapons it has used to fight the Yucca Mountain process, including control over water rights near the mountain.

“The ground water protection in Amargosa Valley is the key licensing issue here,” Halstead said. He said that water is the issue will determine whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will - or will not - approve the license for the site to open and accept waste.

Titus agrees that under the bill proposed by Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL., Nevada could lose it's water rights, but so could other states.

“One of the things that concerns me most about the bill is that it takes away Nevada’s water rights and that’s one of our strongest defenses,” she said.

If water rights are stripped from Nevada, then state officials couldn't say no to using water for the project. The issue goes beyond the Silver State. It could set a precedent allowing the federal government to take the water rights of other western states, they both warn. 

If that wasn't enough the state of Texas is suing to force the NRC to expedite the whole process. Nevada is fighting that in court. 

“What we’re facing is an effort by the state of Texas through this lawsuit to take away Nevada’s due process to the full legally mandated proceeding,” Halstead said. 

Halstead said Nevada has a strong case against the Texas lawsuit. Beyond that, he said the state is prepared to go "toe to toe" on every issue.

Titus is pleased to see the state fighting the Yucca Mtn. plan on several fronts, but she believes what will ultimately kill the bill is not legislation or a court ruling, but money. 

“Probably the best thing going for us is this is so expensive," she said, "Where are they’re going to come up with $100 billion to build this I don’t know.”



Rep. Dina Titus D-NV, congresswoman; Bob Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.