Tucked inside a budget proposal that included such eye-catching headlines as “Trump Eliminates Funding for Public Broadcasting,” or “White House Budget Would Add $7 Trillion to the Deficit,” it’s little wonder that one addition got lost in the details.
That addition? Another $120 million for the U.S. Department of Energy meant to restart the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear repository in Nye County. It’s the second such sum allotted to the DOE in as many years for the facility, and it proves something we’ve been assuming for about the last year: the Trump Administration is dead set on reopening Yucca Mountain.
The project is decidedly controversial, especially here in the Silver State. Many Nevadans, especially those in Las Vegas (just 100 miles from the site), are hesitant to allow thousands of metric tons of high-level nuclear waste to be shipped anywhere near where they live.
In some ways, this fear can be unfounded. The International Atomic Energy Agency has guidelines in place for the transport of spent nuclear fuel, and dozens of shipments happen every year in Europe, Japan and even the U.S.
However, the fear can also be real. The high-level waste — if ever unshielded — can be incredibly dangerous to anyone nearby. Moreover, like any form of transportation, rail and truck transport are not completely safe. There are dozens of rail accidents and hundreds of truck accidents every year, and the safety Yucca proponents promise can never really be guaranteed.
But at the end of the day, if the Trump administration is so intent on starting this whole process again, then Nevadans must be committed to actually having this conversation again, because the truth of the matter is this: every day, high-level nuclear waste is piling up in short–term facilities that were never meant to handle the current load.
The National Energy Institute, an industry trade group, says there are roughly 76,000 metric tons of nuclear waste in the U.S. and all of it is being kept in short-term storage. And some of those storage sites, like Hanford, Washington (where a tunnel collapsed just last year) or the Savannah River site in South Carolina (dubbed “one of the most contaminated places on Earth) are old, ailing and in desperate need of a renovation that’s never going to come.
We at The Nevada Sagebrush are not nuclear experts. We will not pretend to know the answers, or to even know whether or not pursuing Yucca Mountain is something the state definitely should (or definitely should not do). But the time is long overdue for our politicians to start talking about it.
So often, Yucca is simply a non-starter. Besides Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, who represents much of Northern Nevada, the Battle Born congressional delegation has long been quick to stand firmly against Yucca at every turn. Even now, the state is fighting a protracted (and expensive) legal battle to delay the process.
But at the end of the day, if it’s not here, where? If there’s some other option, then that’s perfect. But what if there isn’t? What will Nevada — and the country writ large — do then?
The editorial board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.