Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site May Get a Second Look Under Trump

by | Jan 12, 2017

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While the US Department of Energy published new rules to create a central repository for nuclear waste, a bill has been introduced to block any new defense nuclear waste disposal facilities.

The so-called Sensible Nuclear Waste Disposition Act — reported on by the Las Vegas Sun — is to try and get the federal government to complete its review of Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It was introduced by a South Carolina lawmaker who says that the nuclear waste disposal sites in his state are becoming the de facto place to store permanently nuclear waste from defense. As such, the federal government needs to complete its review of Yucca Mountain before looking for other places to store such radioactive material from nuclear operations.

“Now, in the twilight of the Obama presidency, the administration is trying to abandon Yucca Mountain and find a new repository for nuclear waste — leaving communities across the United States, including the Aiken-Barnwell community in the Second District, to bear the burden of storing nuclear waste that the federal government has promised to remove, while perpetuating a possible threat to communities nationwide,” says Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC, in a statement to media, as reported by the Sun.

Yucca Mountain was approved in 2002 as a central spot to store nuclear waste. But in 2010 the funding to continue development was cut by the Obama administration, which argued — citing engineers — that the site was not bullet-proof. In December 2016, the Energy Department published a plan to create a “consent-based” approach to building such a centralized repository. According to the Sun, this will take many years but there are some communities that would welcome this site.

“The federal government should finish what they started — or, at the very least — should make an official decision on Yucca before wasting billions of dollars on a duplicative facility,” says Wilson in the Sun story, who wants nuclear waste removed South Carolina.

While the Obama administration cited engineers and scientists who feared that Yucca Mountain could leak radiation, the General Accountability Office said in May 2011 that the reason was political; Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada didn’t want the site in his state, given that his constituents had opposed it.

What Wilson’s bill would do is to try and ensure the federal government fully thinks out the Yucca Mountain site before it would do away it. In other words, the politics of it all would be set aside while policymakers would focus exclusively on the science and engineering. That would then delay the consent-based approach agreement that was just reached.

The bill could get some legs, given that there will soon be a Republican president while both branches of Congress will continue to be controlled by Republicans.

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