Nevada promises fight, as House breathes life into Yucca Mountain

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The U.S. House on Thursday passed, and not by a small margin, a bill that would restart the licensing process for a nuclear waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“We all know that Yucca Mountain is literally a porous volcano that sits on an earthquake fault above an aquifer that drains to the Amargosa Valley. If there was a worse place to spot long-term storage of nuclear waste, please name it,” Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada, told News 3 Thursday in Las Vegas.

The governor says Nevada has budgeted millions for a fight and has hundreds of objections already lined up.

This controversy has a half-life almost as long as the waste it would store: the state has been fighting it since the late 80s when Washington picked Yucca as the national nuke dump.

Former President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid starved it of money, but in Washington now, the Trump Administration is willing to spend. Lawmakers of both parties want the waste out of their states, where it sits at nuke sites around the country.

Getting it here could be dangerous, says Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, worried not only that waste could travel through her city, but that it would travel cross-country over roads, bridges and rail lines needing repair.

RELATED | Pahrump officials want Yucca discussion to move forward

“You want this going through your city with an opportunity for radioactive nuclear waste coming apart in your city, by rail?” asks Goodman, explaining her pitch to her fellow mayors.

Next door in Nye County, where Yucca is located, many smell opportunity.

“It's a huge game changer for my county, but it would boost the economy in the whole state,” says Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, who wants Yucca to get a fair hearing in Washington.

“This is a multi-billion dollar multi-generational project. It would rival Hoover Dam,” Schinhofen says, adding: “Thousands of jobs during construction and thousands of jobs when it finally gets done."

The measure now moves to the Senate, where Nevada's two senators promise it will die.

“It's dead. I'll tell you right now, it's dead. Not going anywhere,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada. “Fortunately, I've got the ear of leadership. And I just assure you that with my work, my hard work over on this side, it will never get a vote.”

Every Nevada lawmaker issued statements today condemning the vote. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, who’s challenging Heller for U.S. Senate, called Yucca Mountain “reckless and ill-conceived.”

“I will keep working diligently in Congress to repurpose Yucca Mountain into something that can create jobs while keeping our families safe,” Rosen said in a statement.

Today, Yucca sits all-but-abandoned, with construction never proceeding beyond an entrance tunnel. Nevada’s best defense may be the cost to resurrect the project.

“You know, let’s get real. There’s no money,” Sandoval said. “They may try to site this, but they’ve got to put billions of dollars in the budget to make this happen.”

Moving forward with licensing would resurrect discussions about Yucca’s health and safety.

“I just don’t think those conversations have been had enough,” Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick told News 3. The entire Clark County Commission issued a statement Thursday condemning the vote.

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