For decades, the Department of Energy (DOE) wanted to move America’s deadly high-level nuclear waste to a dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Since I was elected to Congress, I have been fighting this project because it threatened our health and safety and would have negatively impacted Nevada’s economy. Nevadans are overwhelmingly opposed to dumping nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, and they can rest safely now that the Obama Administration has put the project to rest. The proposal to dump nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain threatened the health and safety of Nevadans and people across our nation. Yucca Mountain, which is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is simply not a safe or secure site to store nuclear waste for any period of time. I am proud that after more than two decades of fighting the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, the project has finally been terminated.

Terminating The Dump

Today, the fate of the Yucca Mountain project has never been clearer. President Obama and his Administration have made it clear that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option. The Yucca Mountain project no longer receives any federal funding, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Yucca Mountain project office has been closed, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has discontinued its review of the application to begin construction at Yucca Mountain.

History of Yucca Mountain

I have a long history of working with the Nevada congressional delegation and Nevada’s leaders to put a stop to this flawed plan.

In 1982, the United States Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act instructing the DOE to identify possible sites to build and operate an underground disposal facility for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. In 1984, the DOE chose ten sites to study as potential locations, but after only three years, the DOE was instructed to only study Yucca Mountain. In 2002, President Bush’s decision that Yucca Mountain was suitable for nuclear waste was recklessly approved.

In 2008, the DOE announced that it was raising Yucca Mountain’s estimated price tag from $57.5 billion to over $96 billion. Beyond its bloated budget, the Yucca Mountain project faced a long list of scientific, technical, public health, legal, and safety problems. The skyrocketing price tag, the steadfast opposition of Nevadans and their congressional delegation, and the growing understanding that Yucca was a highly flawed proposal have led to the project’s demise.

Finding Alternatives to a Flawed Proposal

The time is long overdue for America to find a new approach for solving the nation’s nuclear waste problem. That is why I proposed the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission of experts to make credible, scientifically sound recommendations for a new approach to nuclear waste.

I was pleased when President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu agreed with this approach and, on March 3, 2010, announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The Commission included distinguished nuclear energy experts, geologists, policymakers, and environmental policy experts. On January 26, 2012, the Commission released its final report on recommendations to alternatives to Yucca Mountain for managing nuclear waste, marking a critical step towards safely and securely managing our nation’s nuclear waste.

Most importantly, this report makes abundantly clear that no state, tribe, or community should be forced to store spent nuclear fuel or high-level waste without its consent. Yucca was originally selected because of a flawed, non-scientific and political process, and it failed because Nevadans, with good reason, overwhelmingly opposed it.

The responsible course of action is not to resurrect a costly and failed nuclear waste policy, but to chart a realistic path towards solving the problem. The Commission and its distinguished co-chairs, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, have taken the critical step of developing credible recommendations for policy makers to consider for managing nuclear waste in the near and long-term. I commend the Commission’s efforts and look forward to working with my colleagues to finally develop a nuclear waste policy that protects Nevadans and all Americans.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report is available here.

Similarly, it is time to consider new uses for the Yucca Mountain site now that it will no longer be used as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. That is why I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to prepare a report analyzing potential alternative uses for Yucca Mountain. The GAO’s report was published in October 2011, and was an important step as we begin a serious conversation about creating a new mission for the Yucca Mountain site. You can read the GAO’s report by clicking here.

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