Perry cites ‘moral obligation’ to build Yucca nuclear waste site

Perry cites ‘moral obligation’ to build Yucca nuclear waste site
© Greg Nash

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry rejects calls to sell off emergency oil reserve Harvey, Irma show the skyrocketing costs of climate change Overnight Energy: Gary Cohn to meet climate ministers at UN MORE implored lawmakers Tuesday to fund licensing efforts for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada.

Perry said the United States has a “moral obligation” to build the site, since storing spent fuel at the sites of the nation’s nuclear reactors is dangerous.

“We have a moral obligation … to remove this from as many of these sites as we can and put it in the safest repository,” Perry said at a House Appropriations Committee subpanel hearing Tuesday.

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“Listen, I understand this is a politically sensitive topic for some,” he said. “But we can no longer kick the can down the road.”

The Trump administration is seeking $120 million in fiscal year 2018 for the Department of Energy (DOE) to restart the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain site, which Congress designated in 1987 to be the nation’s sole repository for high-level nuclear waste. Nevada has repeatedly resisted the designation.

The Obama administration cut off the licensing process in 2010 due to opposition from Nevada, but Republicans and the nuclear industry have been pushing since then to get it back on track.

Perry said the funding will help reestablish a DOE office for Yucca and kick the process off again. It would take years to build the site, however, and it would be completely filled shortly after it opens.

Perry's first official trip as Energy secretary earlier this year was to the Yucca site, which currently exists solely as an exploratory tunnel in the mountain.

He also has visited the closed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, which suffered multiple meltdowns in 2011 following a tsunami.

Perry warned that a similar incident could happen in the United States, with onsite storage at plants for spent fuel making that possibility even more disastrous.

“It’s your citizens that have the most to lose if we continue to leave this waste in your districts,” he told lawmakers.

Perry also said the administration wants funding for interim nuclear waste storage sites, although the government needs approval from Congress before it can start the process of establishing those.

Perry’s requests regarding Yucca and interim waste sites garnered praise from lawmakers.

“That’s something that this committee has put money into for the last several years and it always gets dropped in conference between — confrontation, I guess is the best word — between the House and the Senate on this issue,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the subcommittee’s chairman.

“I appreciate your comments regarding interim storage sites,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), top Democrat on the full Appropriations Committee. Her district hosts the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant slated for closure in 2021.

“These sites just cannot be redeveloped into productive properties because of the storage there,” she said.