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Yucca or bust: Transportation at forefront of House hearing on nuclear waste

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Essential Energy Insights - February 2021

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Yucca or bust: Transportation at forefront of House hearing on nuclear waste

The issueof transporting nuclear waste by rail through communities and across state lineswas a subject of discussion at a U.S. House Environment and the Economy subcommitteehearing on the ill-fated Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada.

Againsta backdrop of radioactive waste build-up at nuclear plants across the U.S., ChairmanJohn Shimkus, R-Ill., opened the July 7 hearing by criticizing the U.S. Departmentof Energy for pushing for a community "consent-based siting" approachfor finding alternatives to a proposed deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain, which was defunded in 2011.

"TheDepartment of Energy is currently in the midst of an extended roadshow to highlighta political message that states should each have veto power over a national decisionto resolve a national challenge," Shimkus said. "DOE should be workingwith Nevada stakeholders to make progress on the repository instead of ignoringthe law." However, Shimkus acknowledged opposition to Yucca Mountain from NevadaGov. Brian Sandoval, R, who declined to give testimony at the hearing.

RankingDemocratic committee member Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., N.J., in his opening statementinstead lamented holding another hearing on the "decades-long debate"over Yucca Mountain and said it would have been more useful if the DOE had beeninvited to discuss its work on consent-based siting and interim storage.

Renewedfocus on Yucca Mountain also drew criticism from Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, D, whotestified at the hearing. "We didn't produce this commercial waste," Titussaid. "We don't have any nuclear power plants. We say keep it where it is fornow [or] pass the consent-based bill … so places that want it, can have it."

Rep.Cresent Hardy, R-N.V., whose district includes Yucca Mountain, told the committeethat the waste building up at nuclear plants across the U.S. will not be going anywhereuntil a constructive, open and scientific-based dialogue starts addressing "rationalfears" the public has over storing and transporting radioactive waste.

Hardysaid he believes nuclear waste can be safely transported by train to Yucca Mountainbut noted that no railroad lines currently lead to the site. He also pointed outthat nuclear waste would have to pass thorough communities in states other thanNevada, which have their own concerns about safety. "We need a rail line butin order to do that … we need the conversation to exist bigger than Nevada,"he said.

As astark reminder of the consequences of Congressional inaction over Yucca Mountain,Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., testified that communities across the country with activeand decommissioned reactors, such as Zion, Ill., have been turned into spent nuclearfuel storage sites "without negotiation and without compensation." Doldtook the opportunity to urge his colleagues to support his new bill (H.R. 5632)seeking to compensate those communities until a permanent repository for America'scommercial nuclear waste is built.