Perry visits proposed Yucca nuclear waste site

Perry visits proposed Yucca nuclear waste site
© Greg Nash

Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the site of the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada on Monday.

Perry said in a statement that he toured the Nevada site Monday morning, and later met with Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who opposes the project.
 
“Gov. Sandoval and I had a frank and productive conversation, where he expressed his appreciation for my visit and reiterated his opposition to the proposed project,” said Perry, the former governor of Texas.
 
“I thanked him for the long and storied history the state of Nevada has had in our nuclear and defense industries,” he said. “I stressed the need for Nevada to maintain its key role as we seek sensible, stable, and long term solutions to fulfilling our responsibility to safely manage spent nuclear fuel.”

Perry’s visit comes less than two weeks after the Trump administration revealed in its budget proposal that it wants to restart the process of building the waste site, which former President Obama canceled in 2010.

Trump is seeking $120 million in fiscal 2018 to get the permitting restarted for the project, which Congress approved in 1987.

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It faces strong opposition from nearly all statewide leaders in Nevada and most of its residents, though the local county's leaders support the project. And the nuclear power industry strongly backs Yucca, which would let companies stop storing nuclear waste at the sites of their power plants.

The trip is Perry's first official visit outside of the Washington, D.C., area as Energy secretary.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) slammed Perry for planning his visit without notifying her and for the administration’s proposal to revive the Yucca project.

“I am troubled that the new Energy secretary is visiting the site without informing members of the Nevada congressional delegation,” said Titus, who invited Perry to Nevada to meet with opponents of the waste site.

“Southern Nevada is not a wasteland, and I will continue to fight to protect it from becoming a dangerous dumping ground,” she said.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), who represents the site and surrounding areas, said he did know about Perry's visit and thinks he should see the effect it would have on the area.

“It is important for Secretary Perry to see firsthand the negative impact this project would have on Nevadans,” he said in a statement. “Our state shouldn’t serve as a dumping ground for the country’s nuclear waste.”

Rey Benitez, spokesman for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), said Cortez Masto was also notified. She opposes the Yucca project but thinks it’s important for Perry to see the area anyway.

Cortez Masto voted last month to confirm Perry. She tried to get him to commit at his confirmation hearing to supporting or opposing Yucca, but he declined.

The project currently consists of little more than a tunnel.

The planning and review process is likely to take years, and the construction would take even longer.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared in 2015 that spent fuel stored underground at Yucca would be safe indefinitely. But it noted that the Energy Department does not own the land or water rights, which the Department of Defense would have to transfer to it.