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Despite Efforts To Revive Yucca Mtn., UNLV Scholar Says Nevadans Shouldn't Worry

For several years now, the high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain has been mothballed, awaiting either complete closure or revival. When Donald Trump became president, the revival process began once again.

In May, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill to start the funding of the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

However, the Senate refused to take up the legislation. 

John Hudak, guest scholar at UNLV's Brookings Mountain West and a senior fellow in Governance Studies for Brookings in Washington, D.C., said Nevadans probably shouldn’t worry about Yucca Mountain opening any time soon. 

“Times have changed. Democrats have won control of the House and that legislation that was passed in May is now dead. It does not carry over into the new Congress that [gaveled] in on January 3,” he said.

Hudak told KNPR's State of Nevada that two big factors stand in the way of the project: President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I think – like on a lot of issues – it is hard to pin the president down,” he said.

At times, the president has said things that indicate he supports the project and other times he has said things that show he is against it. However, the most telling thing is the president's actions, Hudak said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has stated his support for finishing the Yucca Mountain project but the president hasn't asked him to change his stance and hasn't asked him to step down because of it, which Hudak said indicates it is not an issue the president cares "deeply" about.

Perhaps the most important stopping point for the project could be newly re-elected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

“There was actually one vote on the bill that was the most important vote of all and that was a ‘no’ vote from a representative from California named Nancy Pelosi,” Hudak said.

Hudak said Pelosi has a lot on her agenda as the new Congress starts but her first job as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party is the 2020 election.

“The number one priority for her is going to be to elect a Democratic president in 2020 and a Democrat's path to the White House runs through Nevada,” he said.

Losing Nevada by restarting funding for Yucca Mountain, could hurt Democratic efforts to retake the White House.

“I think for most Democratic house members Pelosi can hang over their head, ‘if you do this – it might help Donald Trump.' And for Democratic House members that is an enormous threat,” Hudak said.

Besides the politics of it all, Hudak pointed out that finding a place to permanently store the nation's nuclear waste is not a "catastrophic issue worrying most Americans," which means it is unlikely that Congress will do much about it.

John Hudak, guest scholar, UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West and senior fellow in Governance Studies for Brookings in Washington DC. 

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