In interview with Sun, Sanders talks Yucca Mountain, minimum wage hike and climate change

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John Locher/AP

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Henderson, Nev.

Mon, Jun 24, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, in a telephone interview with the Sun, reiterated his opposition to storing the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, saying the Nye County site is not safe.

In doing so, Sanders followed up on an anti-Yucca video he released in May that highlighted Native American opposition to the site.

“Harry Reid and I, when Harry was leader of the Senate, we chatted about this many times,” the Vermont senator said, noting that geological evidence showed the site was not safe for the storage of nuclear waste. Sanders has come out against the project before — in his May campaign ad, he said moving nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain would be a “geological, environmental and social disaster.”

Sanders also said that both a minimum-wage increase and action on climate change were integral to the country going forward.

A self-described democratic socialist running at a time when prominent Republicans have cast socialism as an existential threat to the country, Sanders has consistently stayed within the three highest-polling positions in the race for the Democratic nomination. Among seven national polls this month Sanders is averaging a solid second in the Democratic race, behind former Vice President Joe Biden. In Nevada, a recent poll placed him third, behind Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste storage

Sanders has signed on to the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, a bill that would require the Department of Energy to obtain approval from a state’s governor, affected Native American tribes and local governments before money could be spent on a national nuclear waste repository within that state.

“For short-term, we’re going to have to improve the safety of how we store nuclear waste around the county,” he said.

Nuclear waste — in the form of metal rods containing uranium pellets — is stored in dry casks after being cooled for years in specialized pools at 80 sites around the country, pending the approval of a permanent storage site. Yucca Mountain was designated as the permanent storage site in the late 1980s, but decades of opposition led by Nevada’s congressional delegations have been successful in stalling the project.

Minimum wage increases

Sanders called the current minimum wage — $7.25 on the federal level — inadequate for the current cost of living, and said tens of millions of workers were working for “starvation wages.”

Sanders is the author of the Senate’s Raise the Wage Act, legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 and tie future increases to the median wage growth in the country — essentially if the median wage goes up, so does the minimum wage.

The bill currently has 31 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

The House of Representatives’ identical version of the bill will likely receive a hearing first, due to the Democratic Party's control of that chamber. Sanders said he expected a House vote soon.

“I will do everything that I can to see that it is passed,” Sanders said.

Climate change

Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the country, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit that studies and reports on climate change and its effects. The organization says that Las Vegas warmed by 5.76 degrees between 1970 and 2018.

“I’ll never forget getting off the plane (in Las Vegas) one time and somebody announced it was 106 degrees,” Sanders said. “To me, that was pretty hot.”

Sanders called climate change a “reality caused by human beings,” and said under his administration he would try to work with other global powers like Russia and China to cut weapons spending and funnel the money into action on the climate crisis.

“This is an existential crisis for all of humanity,” he said.

Future of the campaign

Sanders said he admired former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and wanted to guarantee for “the first time in American history” that economic rights are human rights.

“In this country, what Roosevelt was talking about is that you’re not really free if you don’t have a job that pays you a living wage,” Sanders said. “You’re not really free if you don’t have health care as a human right.”

He is confident that his campaign can prevail in a general election matchup with Trump.

“I look forward to the debates that are coming up (this) week, and I feel very strong that our campaign can defeat Donald Trump who is, in my opinion, the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” he said.

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