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Heller: Nevada Shouldn’t Have to Shoulder Entire Nation’s Nuclear Waste Burden

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) urged the Administration to drop its proposed revival of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on the Senate floor. During his speech, Heller emphasized the need for affordable, clean energy, and the importance of working toward feasible solutions, including bipartisan legislation he introduced earlier this year, to solve the country’s nuclear waste problem. Click HERE or below to watch Heller’s speech.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I come to the floor of the United States Senate today to discuss an issue that is extremely important to the State of Nevada – Yucca Mountain.

“For over thirty years, those two words have incited anger and frustration in Nevadans across my state.  It isn’t just a mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas – it represents a decades long fight by some in Washington to ‘wrong Nevada.’

“In 1982, the Congress approved the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and charged the Department of Energy (DOE) with finding a long-term storage site for the disposal of spent nuclear material. At the time, Yucca Mountain was one of many proposed geological sites to investigate. 

“Unfortunately, the Act was amended in 1987 to concentrate only on Yucca Mountain. Nevada, a state without any nuclear power plants, was legally compelled to bear the sole burden of the long-term storage of all of our nation’s nuclear waste. This decision was made on bad politics, not sound science. And ever since, the debate on solutions to this problem has been one-sided and the study of alternative solutions has been curtailed.  

“Instead of honoring Nevada’s persistent scientific and procedural objections to the repository, the federal government has spent decades of time and wasted billions of dollars to design and permit Yucca Mountain – all without any notion that Nevada would consent to the project. I have spent the past decade here in the Congress successfully fighting off efforts to force this project on Nevada, and I will continue that fight for as long as I serve my state. 

“I want to be clear – nuclear power is an important part of our nation’s energy portfolio. I am one of the most outspoken Republicans in Congress advocating for policies that make our nation’s energy cleaner and more affordable. Nuclear energy, which represents roughly 20 percent of our nation’s current power production, plays an important role in providing carbon emissions-free baseload energy in many states. 

“But Nevada, a state without a nuclear power plant, should not have to shoulder the entire nation’s waste burden. We have pursued other strategies to meet Nevada’s electricity needs.  

“As we examine viable solutions to the waste problem, it is important to note that there are some promising technological developments that could fundamentally change the nation’s waste storage needs. There are new reactor technologies that could repurpose previously generated spent fuel and produce carbon-free electricity with little to no waste.  International research and development of innovative storage solutions and recycling processes could also be part of the solution.

“Given the Yucca-centric strategy’s previous failures, it would be logical for the government to try something new – strategies with promise. But no, Washington is at it again. 

“Apparently, nearly thirty years of wasted time and billions of squandered taxpayer dollars simply isn’t enough. The Department of Energy’s recently submitted ‘skinny budget’ includes $120 million dollars, in part to ‘restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.’ $120 million dollars… that is a lot of money in itself, but let’s be clear, this is just a fraction of the true costs.  

“Nevada has made clear it will contest each and every one of the 200+ elements of any license application. State and federal officials have estimated that the licensing process for Yucca Mountain would take four to five years at a cost that exceeds 1.6 billion dollars.

“1.6 billion dollars… I ask my colleagues – in these difficult fiscal times, is it financially prudent to invest over 1.6 billion in any program that hasn’t yielded results in over 30 years?

“In case there is any confusion, I want to make sure everyone understands – Nevada’s position hasn’t changed, and it isn’t changing on this issue. 

“Governor Brian Sandoval continues to strongly oppose the project, in fact he shared my same sentiments a few weeks ago when he stated QUOTE ‘I will vigorously fight the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada. Any attempt to resurrect this ill-conceived project will be met with relentless opposition, and maximum resources.’

“Ever serious presumed candidate for Governor in 2018, both Republicans and Democrats, strongly oppose Yucca Mountain.  Nevada’s Attorney General Adam Laxalt recently requested $7.2 million of state resources over the next two years to represent the state’s interest in the licensing process over Yucca Mountain, which he called QUOTE “a poster child of federal overreach.” And soon, our legislature will reaffirm the state’s opposition to the project with the passage of Assembly Joint Resolution 10. 

“In sum, it will cost at least $1.6 billion just to get through the legal proceedings, let alone get a storage facility operational.

“And make no mistake about it, I will continue to lead the Nevada Congressional Delegation’s effort to stymie any misguided efforts to spend one more federal dollar on the Yucca Mountain repository.  It is fiscally irresponsible and simply won’t solve this important public policy issue facing our nation.

I implore my colleagues to work with me to solve our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level waste storage problem in a pragmatic way.  There is an old adage – “’he definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’  Efforts by the Executive Branch and some members of this Congress to direct billions more towards a repository that will never be built is just that – insanity.

“Our nation cannot fully move forward with viable solutions until Congress moves past Yucca Mountain. Last year, the Department of Energy began a consent-based siting initiative to site alternative storage and disposal facilities. Identifying communities willing to be hosts for long-term repositories, rather than forcing it upon states that have outright opposed such a site for decades, is the only sustainable path forward. I whole heartedly support these efforts – in fact I introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, to codify it into law.

“This strategy was wisely recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, a 15 member, bipartisan group tasked by the federal government to development feasible solutions to nuclear waste disposal. This type of open process ensures all Americans have a meaningful voice in the process if their community is being considered for a future nuclear waste repository. I am confident the government can find safe sites through the careful consideration of all alternatives based on credible scientific information, and not by politicians in Washington. 

“Let’s stop the insanity. The Administration and Congressional Yucca advocates should focus their efforts on practical solutions, not more of the same.

"Let’s advance innovative energy technologies that repurpose and reduce spent fuel.

"Let’s invest in the research and development of recycling and alternative storage methods.

"And most importantly, let’s identify safe and viable alternatives for the storage of the nuclear waste that remains in areas that are willing to house it.   

“These are worthwhile initiatives that actually, to use a football analogy, ‘move the ball down the field.’ For far too long, our nation has been going “three and out,” because Washington keeps trying to run the same stale game plan. 

“I am working diligently on feasible solutions to this important problem. And I urge my colleagues, here today on the floor of the United States Senate, to join me in that fight.  I stand here ready to work for what is best for both my state and our nation. 

“Thank you.”

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