LAS VEGAS (AP) — After a decade in limbo, Nevada is urging U.S. nuclear regulators to finally scrap a mothballed proposal to bury the country’s most radioactive waste under a windswept volcanic ridge north of Las Vegas.
“It is time to bring this long dormant and unproven federal project out of its misery,” the state said in a document submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday about the Yucca Mountain project. “Fundamental fairness requires that this proceeding be terminated where possible.”
The NRC, which regulates and licenses US nuclear power plants and the handling of radioactive material, initially did not comment on the government request. Commission spokesman David McIntyre said the panel would review it.
The document urges the federal agency to resume its review and finally end the Department of Energy’s 40-year effort to prove that the Yucca Mountain site is a safe place to dispose of high-level radioactive waste collected from power plants across the country is shipped.
It derides the repository as “an unfunded, zombie-like federal project that has been stumbling unsuccessfully through the halls of Congress begging for funding for more than a decade.”
An estimated $15 billion was spent drilling a 5-mile U-shaped test tunnel and conducting studies to determine whether 77,000 tons (70,000 metric tons) of some of the deadliest materials known to man would remain safe at the site for thousands of years could remain buried.
Some estimates put the ultimate cost of building the repository at $100 billion, including drilling a honeycomb of underground railroad tunnels and constructing a way to contain the waste and prevent spillage into underground water sources.
The US has no long-term plan for managing or disposing of hazardous nuclear waste produced and stored in reactors nationwide, but Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has spoken out in recent months about the need to find one.
Nevada’s proposal came the same day the department announced it would spend $16 million to encourage so-called “consent-based” site selection and spent nuclear fuel disposal.
In 1982, the government promised US nuclear power producers that it would find a place to store radioactive spent fuel. Congress in 1987 narrowed the choice down to Yucca Mountain, a safe corner of a vast federal reservation where nuclear weapons were detonated about 100 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas.
But plans for the repository were mothballed after 2010, when Harry Reid, the then Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration cut funding.
Some elected officials in rural Nevada support the proposal and the jobs it could bring. But most congressional delegates and state lawmakers have strongly opposed what Democratic US Rep. Dina Titus on Tuesday called a “dangerous project” to force a nuclear waste dump in Nevada.
“Nevada doesn’t use nuclear energy; we do not produce nuclear waste; and we should not be required to store it,” Titus said in a statement.
Governor Steve Sisolak, US Sens, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, Attorney General Aaron Ford and US Reps Steven Horsford and Susie Lee – all Democrats – also supported the state’s call for action. The state launched a website focusing on the plan’s dangers and shortcomings.
The licensing process itself — a review of scientific and technical data amid challenges from the state and other opponents — is expected to cost $330 million and take five years.
The state said Tuesday it wanted a “summary order” from the NRC, not a full list of hearings. Challenges to a number of Department of Energy findings on the geology of the site and the transportation of nuclear material would remain unanswered.
Nuclear power provides about 20% of US electricity and accounts for about half of the country’s carbon-free energy. Most of the 93 reactors operating in the country are east of the Mississippi River.
Nevada’s request to the NRC also found that the effects of human-caused climate change were not studied before the Yucca Mountain project was halted.
A recent look at national energy policy published by the Associated Press found the first expansion in nuclear reactor construction in more than three decades to be gathering momentum. A poll found that about two-thirds of states now say nuclear power will help replace fossil fuels in one way or another.
A $1 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden last November earmarks about $2.5 billion for advanced reactor demonstration projects.