(Phillip Moyer/Nevada News Bureau) – After President Obama announced his plan to eliminate funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and move to have the Department of Energy withdraw the project’s pending license application, questions have arisen regarding the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, a state agency that has fought the Yucca Mountain proposal for over two decades.
“Now that the agency responsible for pushing the licensing of Yucca is moving to withdraw its own license, it’s absolutely ludicrous for us to keep that office around when we’re cutting everything else in government,” said Washoe County Assemblyman Ty Cobb.
Bruce Breslow, the executive director for the agency, contends that even with the plans in progress to withdraw the license, there is still much that his agency can do with respect to Yucca Mountain. For instance, South Carolina, one of the states that would send waste from its nuclear power plants to Nevada, will file a motion this Friday to become an intervening party in the license application hearing.
“There may be other interested parties that might follow South Carolina’s Lead, in which case Nevada may decide how we plan on responding,” Breslow said.
In addition, the State of South Carolina, along with Aiken County, SC have filed a lawsuit saying that the withdrawal of the license is in violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which names Yucca Mountain as the site for the national repository for nuclear waste. There is also the chance that congress could override the move to withdraw the license.
“You can clearly see we have a lot of work still to do,” said Breslow. “It’s not just about the license for Yucca Mountain.”
Breslow also explained that the agency has already made cutbacks in response to the governor’s requests, ending contracts with experts and scientists who were paid with state funding.
The disagreement led to a tense moment on the Assembly floor, when Cobb openly questioned Breslow’s qualifications while Breslow testified in front of the Assembly.
“Are you an attorney?” Cobb asked.
“No,” Breslow said.
“Are you a scientist?”
“Then how can you justify telling the DOE whether or not the Yucca Mountain application is viable? Don’t you think the DOE is qualified to make that call for itself?”
“I did as I was instructed to,” retorted Breslow.
Later, Cobb expressed his frustration with the situation.
“The idea that this guy who has absolutely no expertise, no connection whatsoever to the Department of Energy, is needed to help them withdraw their own license is ridiculous,” he said.
Randi Thompson, the executive director for the Alliance for Nevada’s Economic Prosperity, says that although there’s little the nuclear projects agency can do during the lawsuits, that doesn’t mean it’s unneeded.
“If [Yucca Mountain]’s really dead, we don’t need the office. But it’s not really dead,” Thompson said
Thompson does not believe that stopping the storage facility is in Nevada’s best interest. Rather, she thinks that the facility could be used to help Nevada economically.
“We should be cutting a deal,” she said. “It’s already done. Built. It cost $10 billion.”
Cobb agreed that the Yucca Mountain facility could help Nevada.
“Right now, it would be best to change the project from the old version, which was just a waste dump, to a reprocessing center,” he said. “It would be interim storage, and we could re-process the waste and re-use it.”
“There’s just a tremendous opportunity for that project for high-paying jobs for highly skilled workers – to attract people like that to Nevada from around the United States,” he said.