Urban, rural communities in Nevada split over Congress’ Yucca Mountain decision


In a vote of 340-72, the House approved an election-year bill to revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain despite opposition from home-state lawmakers.

Supporters say the bill approved Thursday would help solve a nuclear-waste storage problem that has festered for more than three decades. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants sit idle in 121 communities across 39 states.

The bill would direct the Energy Department to continue a licensing process for Yucca Mountain while moving forward with a separate plan for a temporary storage site in New Mexico or Texas.

The bill is now on its way to the Senate, where Nevada’s two senators have vowed to block it.

Many state and local leaders, mostly in urban communities, have condemned the house vote, saying Nevada doesn’t want to go down the Yucca Mountain road anymore.

With that said, many residents in the rural areas may be ready to stand behind it by simply saying “let’s hear the science.” 

But to look at Yucca’s Mountain’s possible future, you have to understand where it all started, and that’ll be when Congress passed the so-called “Screw Nevada” bill in the late ’80s.  It was called that because the bill designated Yucca Mountain as the only place in the country to store spent nuclear fuel rods and high-level defense military nuclear waste.

Yucca Mountain is in Nye County and it’s about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and it’s located on the west side of the Nevada National Security site, which is north of Armagosa valley.

Nye county welcomes the idea of opening the facility, while Clark County politicians and state leaders are flat out saying no.

To most Nevada politicians, Yucca mountain” is like a swear word, which is why Thursday’s House vote is drawing a sharp reaction.

“This is another chapter; this is only a very small step in the entire process, but Nevada’s ready, willing, able and prepared to do whatever it takes to defeat this,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. 

“I think it’s disappointing for our state as a whole; there are so many unintended consequences that we should be talking about,” Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.

“All these communities around the United States are going to have this garbage traveling across their communities to get it to here,” said Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

Southern Nevada leaders, in particular, have taken issue with the proposed routes over the years that could bring the spent nuclear fuel through or near Las Vegas and the surrounding communities.  But Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen has led the charge of nine rural counties, urging the federal government to restart the permitting process. 

The first step in getting the repository up and running.

“We lost 2,500 jobs, said Schinhofen. “We lost money that was coming to Nye County.”

Schinhofen spoke with 8 News NOW when Yucca Mountain funding was on the table, this time last year.  He says the county received 11 million dollars in federal funds in 2007… Before development on the site was shut down.

Nye County is lauding the vote, saying it’s a step forward in proving Yucca Mountain is safe, but Governor Sandoval doesn’t buy it.

“I understand, and I sympathize with Nye County and others that are interested in this, but on the other hand, I’m not willing to put Nevadans at risk,” Gov. Sandoval said.

“We want to hear the science,” said Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen.

So what exactly would be shipped out to the Yucca Mountain site?

The spent fuel is essentially little ceramic pellets. Hundreds of them are stored in hollow steel rods, which are bundled into blocks and sealed up in what’s called a cask. The cast looks like the vacuum tube you use at the drive-through teller at the bank.

That’s shipped on a flatbed trailer or on a train car to see more of Nye County’s pitch in favor of the project.

For more on the long battle and Nye County’s interest in Yucca Mountain go here.

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