Senators grill Perry on Yucca nuclear storage plans

Senators grill Perry on Yucca nuclear storage plans
© Greg Nash

Energy Secretary Rick Perry was in the hot seat Wednesday as senators grilled him over his push to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-Calif.) said the fight over making Yucca the sole location for the nation's nuclear waste has slowed progress on the issue and questioned Perry on interim sites.

"There's no place for the waste to go," she said at the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Energy Department's fiscal 2018 budget request. "Yucca holds everything hostage."

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Feinstein said the debate over the future of nuclear waste storage was at a "stalemate" and asked Perry how he would make progress.

Perry said that the Department of Energy (DOE) has a moral and national security obligation to address the issue.

"I will throw a lot of Jello at the wall if that's what is required to stimulate conversations, to try to truly come up with the solution to this," Perry said.

He added that there is a possibility that nuclear waste could be stored at a private storage facility while the construction on the Yucca site is finished. He called it a "viable" option and defended his push for the Yucca project.

The DOE's 2018 budget plan is a 5.6 percent reduction from the 2017 budget but devotes $120 million to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The money would be used to restart the licensing process for the site, which Congress in 1987 designated the nation's sole nuclear waste repository.

The Obama administration halted the licensing process, but Republicans are eager to resume the work. The state of Nevada has long opposed the project.

Perry was also questioned on the Trump budget's commitment to nuclear cleanup by Democrats.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.) cited a tunnel collapse at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state in May 2017 that has still not been cleaned up.

"The federal government has a moral and a legal obligation to clean up that waste site," she said, but called President Trump's budget "inadequate" and "short-sighted" on providing funds for Hanford.

Murray said the budget cuts costs at the expense of safety.

"This is not a simple project," she said. "There is absolutely no cheap way to do this."

Perry said that Hanford could be one of the longest-lasting projects of his time as secretary and that he would work to ensure that the people of Washington state knew he was committed to cleaning up that site.