The push to restart Yucca Mountain - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


The push to restart Yucca Mountain

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FILE - In this April 13, 2006 file photo, Pete Vavricka conducts an underground train from the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File) FILE - In this April 13, 2006 file photo, Pete Vavricka conducts an underground train from the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)
(FOX5) -

The Trump administration said it wants to reopen Yucca Mountain to the nation's radioactive waste, and a proposed bill in congress would make it tougher to for Nevada to fight it.

Yucca Mountain sits 100 miles to the northwest of the valley and critics said it's much too close to Las Vegas to consider as a possible waste site.

Another state is already loaded up with nuclear waste and its people are divided on whether Yucca Mountain is the answer.

Yucca Mountain is deserted, desolate and not much to look at. It could be hard to believe that it may be the most studied piece of real estate in the world. 

Department of Energy scientists have spent years and billions of dollars to see if the mountain could safely hold the nation's nuclear waste. There's now more than 75,000 tons of it.   

Although the nuclear regulatory commission found the site suitable, the Obama administration killed its licensing of it in 2010. The gates are locked but the new administration could be the key to reopening Yucca Mountain.

Washington lawmakers held their first hearing on a bill that would restart Yucca Mountain. Most of them come from states that store nuclear waste.

"Last year, taxpayers paid two million dollars a day because the federal government is allowing spent nuclear fuel to sit scattered around the country," Bill Flores (R-TX) District 17 said. 

Most of the Nevada delegation testified. They were put on the list though only after Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) 4th District publicly demanded to be heard. 

"If this project was proposed in your district, near your family and threatened your constituents' lives and jobs, would you support it? If the answer is yes, lets find a site in your district," Kihuen said. 

"Due to political antics, not science, Nevada quickly moved to the government's number one location to store all of the country's nuclear waste," Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) said. 

"Billions of dollars have been wasted on this boondoggle and we're no closer to a solution," Dina Titus (D-NV) 1st District said. 

With that, the Nevada delegation was dismissed.

Ever since the first nuclear reactor went on line, there has been no long-term plan to store the high level radioactive waste those plants produce.  Despite a 35-year-old law requiring the government to do just that.

When Yucca Mountain went idle, the nuclear waste kept piling up at reactors across the country. In South Carolina, 5,000 tons of radioactive waste is stored at four different locations, including the VC Summer Plant. Not surprisingly, people there want to see the waste go.

Mike Stake and Ken Baer are two South Carolinians who call themselves "nuclear entrepreneurs."

"I thought it was dead, dead. So yeah, I thought we spent $15 billion for a big hole in the ground," Stake said.

They said they see a future where nuclear waste can be reprocessed to produce more energy. But for now, they said Yucca Mountain needs to open.

"The opening of Yucca Mountain would mean a lot to South Carolina. We already have canisters that sitting here with labels that say 'Yucca Mountain.' We're ready to ship them," Stake said. 

Both Baer and Stake call Aiken, South Carolina home.  It's a small town unlike most others. The scene is thriving with gourmet coffee shops, micro-breweries, specialty stores and art galleries.

Many of the people who live there work in the nuclear industry.

"We have a host of thousands of people that are second and even third generation people who are involved in nuclear. They have no misgivings, no misunderstandings of nuclear waste and operations. They are very comfortable with it."

Eleven thousand people work down the road from Aiken at the Savannah River Site. That is where the plutonium and trillium were produced for nuclear weapons.

The problem, that isn't unique to Aiken, is that SRS can hold 4,500 canisters but it expects to fill more than 8,000.

Without Yucca Mountain, it'll have to build a third storage unit within 10 years.

 At the New Moon Cafe, people are divided on whether Yucca Mountain should open its doors to their waste. 

"We kinda lost our concept of civic responsibility for the greater good of the country. It's all about 'me,' instead of 'us,'" local Bill Rutledge said. 

"I would feel like it's been there for so long, why move it? Why dig it up? Why make it a possibility of being dangerous on the highway?"

The waste would travel, not just over busy interstates and highways but on the rail lines as well.

"Do you honestly believe that shipping over 5,000 truck casks of high level nuclear waste over a span of 50 years won't result in at least one radiological accident?"Jacky Rosen (D-NV) 3rd District said.    

Waste is accumulating in 78 sites spread across 34 states

Jim Marra is a retired scientist at the Savannah River Site. He said trucks carrying nuclear waste are already on the road delivering their deadly cargo to New Mexico's waste isolation power plant without incident.

"I live 20 miles or less from an area that has a lot of nuclear materials and I've lived here for 27 years. I feel very comfortable knowing what I know as a scientist working out there that we can safely contain and maintain these materials," Marra said.

Only Illinois and Pennsylvania store more nuclear waste than South Carolina and many in Aiken County are very eager to get the waste out of its neighborhood.

The county took the Department of Energy to court to restart Yucca Mountain.

"We wish it wasn't here but we don't know what to do about it. We would do anything to get rid of it, even help you take it to Yucca Mountain, but that isn't going to happen. We know that."

Rose Hayes served six years on the citizens advisory board for the Savannah River Site.

She said the Department of Energy's conclusion that Yucca Mountain is safe is based on what she calls "SWAG."

"Do you know what SWAG is? That's a scientific wild-ass guess," Hayes said. 

Because of the growing amount of nuclear waste, Hayes said if Yucca Mountain opens, the Department of Energy will be under instant pressure to expand it.

"If I were a Nevadan, I'd be telling my representatives to fight it with all your might," she said.

South Carolinians seemed sympathetic to Nevada's resistance. They have a history of fighting for state's rights. But when it comes to Nevada's rights, some in South Carolina said they hope Nevada leaders will put Nevada's rights second to the needs of the country.

That's a tough sell for a majority of Nevadans and their elected leaders who argue that 'Nevada doesn't produce nuclear nor benefit from nuclear, so why should Nevada have to store its deadly waste?'

Yucca Mountain opponents scored a victory this month when congress passed a temporary measure to fund the government. None of that money will go to Yucca Mountain. The next budget battle has already begun.

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