Yucca Mountain unlikely to get funding amid focus on 2020 election, experts say

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Wade Vandervort

Seth Kirshenberg, executive director of Energy Communities Alliance, speaks during the Radwaste Summit at Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.

Tue, Sep 3, 2019 (8 p.m.)

With the political chaos of the approaching election, there is little chance the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository will receive funding this fiscal year, energy professionals say.

Speaking at the Radwaste Summit, a conference on radioactive waste with both private and public participants, Energy Communities Alliance Executive Director Seth Kirshenberg said political disagreements will likely continue to stop any movement on Yucca Mountain this year.

The 2020 election, he and others said, is also an impediment to legislating as normal.

“Because it’s a presidential election, I think people are concerned — they’re not really expecting that to move forward,” he said.

Colin Jones, the deputy general manager for the Jacobs North American Nuclear Group, said the political environment will likely drown out business as usual.

“The noise is going to ratchet up, and as the noise ratchets up from a political perspective, from an agency perspective things will get a little quieter,” he said.

In the Senate, there have been discussions about alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site, with the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2019 receiving hearings this year. The bill would require approval from state, local and tribal governments in developing a nuclear waste repository.

The bill does not include Yucca Mountain in the consent-based process, but members of the Nevada delegation have been working to change that with amended language. 

While Kirshenberg was fairly confident there would be no movement on Yucca Mountain this budget cycle, he didn’t think the project was irrevocably over.

“No matter what, a site needs to be found … and I think there’s enough supporters still in the House and Senate to where I don’t think this is the death knell,” he said. “I just think it’s going to be on pause for a while.”

The upcoming retirement of Republican Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, a longtime proponent of Yucca Mountain, may change the conversation slightly, Kirshenberg said.

“Shimkus is still there for another year,” he said. “But he’s been a strong advocate. I think it may open the discussion more on more interim storage sites, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Kirshenberg said that states with closing nuclear facilities may start to pressure Nevada to relent on Yucca Mountain, but the state’s political importance gives it leverage.

“Nevada has become a very important political state for both parties,” he said, adding that the state is in play for both parties and that the Nevada delegation has continued its staunch opposition to the project.

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