‘Screw Nevada Two Bill’: NV May be Forced to Take America’s Nuclear Waste Under Trump Plan

(EnviroNews Nevada) — Washington D.C. — On April 26, 2017, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), held a hearing to examine a “discussion draft” called, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 (the 2017 Act). This measure seeks to restart the licensing process for the unfinished, and currently defunct, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository (Yucca Mountain).

The 2017 Act has been called the “Screw Nevada Two Bill” by opponents of Yucca Mountain because it represents the federal government’s second attempt to send most of the country’s nuclear waste to Nevada for permanent storage, despite the state’s many objections. Yucca Mountain licensing is slated for funding under President Trump’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal.

Four Nevada lawmakers spoke out against this draft legislation at the April hearing and have also introduced their own bills defending state’s rights regarding consent on nuclear waste disposal issues. During his testimony, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) pointed out that Nevada does not currently have any nuclear power plants of its own.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which outlined the creation of nuclear waste repositories. The Department of Energy (DOE) failed to carry out numerous site assessments and in 1987 Congress instead designated Nevada as the only permanent U.S. nuclear storage facility with an amendment to the 1982 act often called the “Screw Nevada Bill.” Yucca Mountain is a five-mile-long tunnel that was drilled 1,000 feet into a volcanic structure in 1994. The site is about 100 miles from Las Vegas and was intended to store nuclear waste with the help of large titanium shields.

“For over 30 years, the state of Nevada and local communities have rejected this project on safety, public health and environmental grounds. In fact, the state has filed 218 contentions against the Department of Energy’s (DOE) license application, challenging the adequacy of DOE’s environmental impact assessments,” explained Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV) in her testimony.

Rosen also stated, “Numerous scientific studies have deemed Yucca Mountain unsafe based on the fact that the site is seismically active and sits above an aquifer.” Two other Democratic representatives from Nevada, Ruben Kihuen and Dina Titus, and Republican Senator Heller also expressed opposition to Yucca Mountain in the hearing.

In contrast, Anthony O’Donnell of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), testified that his organization “welcomed” the discussion draft “as a very positive step forward to correct unanticipated, but serious, structure flaws in the nation’s nuclear waste disposal policy framework.”

Bob Halstead, Executive Director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this new bill is, in part, “intended big time to be ‘Screw Nevada Two.’” It does “a pretty good job screwing us on land withdrawals” and is “a general assault on state water rights,” he continued.

The potential use of Nevada’s water to build and operate Yucca Mountain has spurred a conflict over states’ rights to choose or consent to nuclear storage facilities. In the Water Access Amendment (b), titled “BENEFICIAL USE OF WATER,” the current draft of The 2017 Act states:

Notwithstanding any other Federal, State or local law, the use of water from any source in quantities sufficient to accomplish the purposes of this subtitle to carry out Department functions under this subtitle is declared to be a use that is beneficial to interstate commerce and that does not threaten to prove detrimental to the public interest. A State shall not enact or apply a law that discriminates against this use…

Titus sponsored the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which requires consent from affected state and local governments for nuclear waste storage sites. Heller has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.

The 2017 Act gives consent-based site privileges to any states who run interim storage facilities, but not to Nevada for the permanent site. “This draft bill should afford the same consent-based provisions to any permanent storage facility. Yet it goes the opposite direction,” said Titus.

A Subcommittee on Environment press release characterizes The 2017 Act in this manner: “[It] provides practical reforms to the nation’s nuclear waste management policy to ensure the federal government’s obligations to dispose used nuclear fuel and high-level waste can be fulfilled.”

The U.S. is currently dealing with a backup of nuclear waste at facilities that were not designed for long-term storage and that experience dangerous leaks and explosions. The country’s nuclear utilities have paid about $36 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) for nuclear waste storage services, which are not available, and have won $6.1 billion of that money back in settlements.

Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen supports Yucca Mountain and said it “would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs and improve the state’s infrastructure,” as quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Kihuen called on Subcommittee members to put themselves in Nevadans’ shoes during the hearing:

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, then let’s find a place in your district. If the answer is no, as it surely is, you cannot in good conscience vote to send the country’s nuclear waste to my district. I urge the Committee to vote no and keep this project dead and buried, as it should be.

Shimkus concluded the hearing with these words:

The committee has heard from scores of expert witnesses over the past six years about challenges and opportunities to advance our nation’s nuclear waste management policy… And today, we began the process of taking input from all stakeholders involved on this draft. Our goal here is to identify the right reforms to ensure we can fulfill the government’s obligation to dispose of our nation’s nuclear material.

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