Perry: Re­viv­ing Yucca is ‘moral obli­ga­tion’

Ne­vada of­fi­cials: state not U.S.’ dump

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

En­ergy Secretary Rick Perry told law­mak­ers Tues­day that the gov­ern­ment has a “moral obli­ga­tion” to re­vive the stalled Yucca Moun­tain nu­clear waste repos­i­tory and sug­gested that un­like other pro­grams on the fi­nan­cial chop­ping block, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to pour­ing the nec­es­sary money into the po­lit­i­cally per­ilous project.

In an ap­pear­ance be­fore a House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee, the for­mer Texas gover­nor said one of his top pri­or­i­ties is to open Yucca and use it as a land­ing spot for the roughly 77,000 tons of used nu­clear fuel cur­rently stored across the coun­try.

“We have a moral and na­tional se­cu­rity obli­ga­tion to come up with a long-term so­lu­tion, find­ing the safest repos­i­to­ries avail­able. I un­der­stand this is a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive topic for some, but we can no longer kick the can down the road,” Mr. Perry said.

The re­vival of Yucca Moun­tain is one con­tro­ver­sial piece of Pres­i­dent Trump’s fis­cal year 2018 bud­get pro­posal, a doc­u­ment that calls for ma­jor cuts in do­mes­tic spend­ing. Both Mr. Perry and In­te­rior Secretary Ryan Zinke were on Capi­tol Hill on Tues­day de­fend­ing that bud­get and the cuts that their re­spec­tive de­part­ments would see if it’s en­acted.

But like vir­tu­ally all pres­i­den­tial bud­get pro­pos­als, the plan has no chance of be­ing en­acted as cur­rently writ­ten. At Mr. Perry’s ap­pear­ance, some law­mak­ers seemed in­tent on stop­ping many rec­om­mended bud­get cuts to the En­ergy Depart­ment.

Dur­ing Mr. Zinke’s tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee, in­flu­en­tial mem­bers of Congress of both par­ties also vowed to block some of the pro­posed cuts. At In­te­rior, for ex­am­ple, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to cut fed­eral roy­alty pay­ments to states for off­shore oil drilling seems dead.

“Frankly, I don’t see that pro­posal go­ing any­where,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Repub­li­can and com­mit­tee chair.

The Yucca pro­posal, how­ever, has broad sup­port on both sides of the aisle and seems to be inch­ing closer to be­com­ing re­al­ity. In his bud­get blue­print, Mr. Trump al­lo­cated $120 mil­lion to restart li­cens­ing pro­ce­dures for the nu­clear dump, which would be lo­cated fewer than 100 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and was ini­tially ap­proved by Congress as a per­ma­nent repos­i­tory in 2002.

While that’s merely a drop in the bucket com­pared with the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars it’ll take to open Yucca — li­cens­ing hear­ings alone could cost well over $1 bil­lion — it in­di­cates a clear de­sire on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s part to fi­nally get the project across the fin­ish line.

“That is the proper place for longterm stor­age,” Mr. Perry said.

Leg­is­la­tion passed in 1982 re­quires the gov­ern­ment to find a per­ma­nent spot for used nu­clear fuel. Af­ter con­sid­er­able progress and bil­lions of dol­lars in tax­payer money spent, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2011 for­mally scrapped Yucca Moun­tain, blam­ing the es­ti­mated cost of about $100 bil­lion.

It’s be­lieved that then-Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, a pow­er­ful Ne­vada Demo­crat who has since re­tired from the cham­ber, used his con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to kill the project.

With­out Mr. Reid stand­ing in the way, Yucca surely has a much eas­ier path to the fin­ish line, es­pe­cially with a fully sup­port­ive ad­min­is­tra­tion be­hind it. Still, Ne­vada’s cur­rent Se­nate del­e­ga­tion re­mains in­tent on do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to stop it.

“Secretary Perry’s com­ments to­day are ir­re­spon­si­ble, reck­less, and show a bla­tant dis­re­gard for the state of Ne­vada. As I have re­peat­edly told the Secretary, Ne­vada will not serve as our na­tion’s nu­clear waste dump,” Sen. Dean Heller, Ne­vada Repub­li­can, said in a state­ment Tues­day af­ter Mr. Perry’s tes­ti­mony and a week af­ter he and in-state col­league Sen. Cather­ine Cortez Masto, a Demo­crat, de­nounced the newly vi­able project in a joint state­ment.

“The only vi­able so­lu­tion to our coun­try’s nu­clear waste prob­lem is one that is rooted in con­sent, and Ne­vada has said ‘no.’ … Secretary Perry to­day re­ferred to a ‘moral and na­tional se­cu­rity obli­ga­tion,’ and I be­lieve that fight­ing for Ne­vada against Yucca Moun­tain is mine,” Mr. Heller said Tues­day.

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