GOP lawmaker pushes funding for Yucca Mountain approval

GOP lawmaker pushes funding for Yucca Mountain approval

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusCongress: Expand access to physical therapy for underserved communities Lawmakers, Trump agencies set for clash over chemicals in water Dems look to bypass EPA with asbestos ban MORE (R-Ill.) challenged a federal regulator to agree with a simple proposition on Friday: If Congress funds the review process for a nuclear waste depository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, should regulators follow through on that process?

“After 30 years of scientific evaluation, and $15 million spent on the project, we are still waiting for a final determination about the suitability of Yucca Mountain to serve as a permanent geological depository,” he said at a Friday hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment.

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“Do you believe the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] should finish this process and issue a final decision?”

Josephine Piccone, the director of NRC’s Yucca Mountain Directorate said that “it’s dependent on congressional action and appropriations for the agency,” but if the agency got the money, it would continue considering a final construction permit for the site.

A federal court ruled in 2013 that the NRC should continue its review of the Yucca proposal. Lawmakers inserted $50 million into a spending bill last month to kick-start that process, but similar proposals have died in the past. 

Piccone said the NRC’s review process could cost up to $330 million and take several years to complete. The commission is still using past appropriations to fund a new environmental study of the proposal, she said.

Opposition from influential lawmakers has long stymied efforts to establish Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site.

President Obama opposes it, as does Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Many other Nevada lawmakers, including most of its congressional delegation, are against the proposal too. Reid, Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Reps. Dina Titus (D) and Joe Heck (R) are pushing bills that would require consent from a state’s governor and other political officials before a nuclear waste site could be built.

Shimkus is one of Congress's biggest supports of using Yucca for nuclear waste. He toured the area in 2011 and again this year, when, he said, “the landscape has notably advanced to support the development of a permanent repository."