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Subcommittee passes bill to make Yucca Mountain the U.S. nuclear repository

Yucca Mountain graphic (MGN Online)

Despite Nevada protests against it, a measure to make Yucca Mountain the nation's nuclear waste repository advanced in a congressional subcommittee Thursday morning.

On a voice vote, the House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee advanced the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

It is unknown when the bill would be taken up by the full committee.

Among other things the amendments passed today would:

  • Eliminate the current capacity limitation of 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, making it unlimited.
  • It would preempt Nevada's air quality air and water access requirements, allowing the federal government to decide such matters.
  • It would expedite the license procedure by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and would give the NRC 18 months to approve or disapprove -- if the federal licensing process would be restarted.
  • It would expedite the construction of a railroad to Yucca Mountain and would expedite all environmental reviews.

Several Nevada lawmakers issued statements about their disdain for the move to restart talks about Yucca Mountain.

Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who is not on the committee, went as far as to pass out maps of the 329 districts that nuclear waste would travel through to get to Yucca Mountain in an effort to secure future votes against the nuclear repository.

"The legislation that advanced to the full Energy and Commerce committee failed to recognize the multitude of threats to the state and the overwhelming majority of Nevadans who would never consent to the Yucca Mountain project," Titus said in a news release. "It ignores the fact that other states are willing at this very moment to store nuclear waste. The legislation usurps the state's water rights, one of our strongest legal defenses against the repository. The legislation also lowers radiation standards and removes the cap on how much waste was originally allowed at the repository."

"We are using all of our relationships and building news ones to fight and claw," against this process said Kyle Roerink, spokesman for Titus.

Republican Nevada Sen. Dean Heller released the following statement after today's action:

"When I testified before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, I made it clear that Yucca Mountain is dead," Heller said in a statement. "Not only has the federal government already wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on the failed project, Nevada has never signaled it would consent to it and instead has committed to fighting it every step of the way. I will continue to lead the fight in Congress to see that Nevada doesn't turn into the nation's nuclear waste dump, and I urge my colleagues to work with me toward a viable solution to our nuclear waste problem."

Democrat Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto released this statement:

“It’s deeply disappointing that my colleagues on the Hill continue to ignore the concerns and requests of the very people who would be directly impacted by this legislation. Nevada is united in our strong opposition to turning our state into a nuclear waste dumping site and putting the health and safety of Nevadans at risk. We are going to continue fighting these egregious efforts and stop any and all attempts to move this legislation forward.”

Democrat Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen said the following:

"House Republicans seem intent on ignoring the will of the vast majority of Nevadans who do not want our state to become a dump for the rest of the country's nuclear waste. I will continue to fight for a use of Yucca Mountain that benefits the local community without negatively impacting Southern Nevada."

Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Illinois Rep. Jim Shimkus are the major drivers for Republicans pushing for the restart the federal licensing process for Yucca. Illinois has several nuclear facilities, most of which have tons of stored nuclear waste.

Nevada is fighting the federal push with words and dollars, allotting several million dollars to fight the U.S. efforts in court.

The project also faces several environmental obstacles.

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