Nevada lawmakers asked to fund fight against nuke waste site

By Ken Ritter, Associated Press

A state agency asked Nevada lawmakers to commit $3.6 million a year for the next two years to continue a fight against a federal proposal to bury the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas.

This April 9, 2015, file photo shows the south portal of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump near Mercury, Nev. Nevada lawmakers are being asked to commit about $3.75 million over the next two years to fund the fight against a federal proposal to bury the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A state agency asked Nevada lawmakers to commit $3.6 million a year for the next two years to continue a fight against a federal proposal to bury the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas.

State Agency for Nuclear Projects chief Robert Halstead said following a presentation Monday to state Senate and Assembly members that his agency needs about $1.9 million annually for the administrative fight, and the state attorney general's office needs $1.7 million a year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could begin hearings before 2019 on licensing the mothballed project to accept spent nuclear fuel, Halstead said.

An NRC official said Tuesday that hearings won't be scheduled until federal lawmakers provide funding for the hearings and give the go-ahead.

"We need the appropriation and direction from Congress before we can do any more," commission spokesman David McIntyre said.

Halstead told state lawmakers that licensing hearings are expected to take at least four years and could cost the federal Energy Department nearly $1.7 billion, the NRC at least $300 million, and the state of Nevada about $50 million.

McIntyre confirmed the $300 million NRC figure. Energy Department officials did not immediately respond to messages.

Halstead said that after sitting idle for more than six years, Yucca Mountain is unprepared to accept nuclear material, and the state holds crucial water rights that the federal government would need in order to proceed.

Despite Nevada's objections, Congress in 2002 approved the Yucca Mountain site to entomb more than 77,000 tons of spent nuclear reactor fuel currently stored at more than 100 power plants and research facilities around the country.

Five years later, after Harry Reid became U.S. Senate majority leader, Congress cut off funding. The Energy Department under President Barack Obama shuttered the project northwest of Las Vegas in 2010.

A federal court in 2013 ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume the licensing process amid lawsuits by states and utilities that have waited more than 30 years for a place to put radioactive material.

President Donald Trump and his energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have not indicated a clear position on the Yucca Mountain project.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and most of Nevada's congressional delegation oppose it, including Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

Republicans in Congress have talked about restarting the project, and nine rural Nevada counties say they want the NRC to complete the licensing process to determine if the repository could be safely built.

Supporters say local economies could benefit from billions of dollars' worth of jobs and new infrastructure.

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