(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Members of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce heard a spirited debate today on the pros and cons of establishing a high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, but no formal position is expected from the group anytime soon.
Even so, several of the 50 or so people in attendance indicated by a raising of hands after the debate that they would favor negotiations with the federal government on Yucca Mountain versus maintaining the current official Nevada position of flatly rejecting the project.
The hour-long debate featured Reno resident Ty Cobb as an advocate for discussion and negotiation, and Bruce Breslow, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, presenting the case against Yucca Mountain.
Cobb served as the special assistant to President Ronald Regan for national security affairs when the “Screw Nevada” bill making Yucca Mountain the only site under consideration for the repository was passed by Congress in 1987. Breslow is a former mayor of Sparks who assumed his new position in December 2008.
The debate made one issue clear: Even those who support negotiations do not support a permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain.
Both Cobb and Breslow agreed that within 30 to 100 years, science and technology will have developed to the point where alternatives will be available making long-term storage of the waste unnecessary.
Where the two diverge is over what to do with the waste in the meantime.
Cobb told the 50 people in attendance that he believes Yucca Mountain is a suitable location to store the waste temporarily, for not more than 100 years or so, while the science of reprocessing or recycling the nuclear waste advances to the point where an alternative to storage is identified.
There are 160 million people living within five miles of the waste now stored at the nation’s nuclear reactors, which he called a “terrorist’s dream.”
Moving the waste to Nevada, which Cobb said can be done safely, for more secured storage would bring billions in benefits to Nevada. The Yucca Mountain storage project could cost as much as $90 billion, bringing work to thousands of residents, he said.
Breslow disagreed, saying leaving the waste where it is while technology develops to where the material can be reprocessed or recycled is a better alternative. Shipping the 70,000 metric tons of waste to Nevada, only to ship it back to reactors for use after reprocessing, is not a workable alternative, he said.
Cobb said his son, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, proposed legislation in 2009 that would have pushed for a nuclear fuels reprocessing facility. The younger Cobb, who attended the discussion, said his resolution did not get a hearing.
Breslow said the state is in a difficult situation because of the language of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act says that if Nevada officials decide to negotiate on Yucca Mountain, all rights to protest the project are forfeited.
Cobb replied that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could use his considerable influence to get Congress to amend the act to allow for such discussions.
But there is some disagreement about whether Nevada is in fact precluded from entering into such negotiations. A legal opinion issued in 1999 by Nevada attorney Joe W. Brown suggests that engaging in a discussion of the proposed Yucca Mountain project to explore the possibility of receiving benefits does not “imply consent” to accept the facility.
Tray Abney, director of government relations for the chamber, said he does not believe the group will take a position on Yucca Mountain in the near term. The purpose of the discussion was to educate members, he said.