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Yucca Mountain vote reignites decades-long battle

Posted at 6:37 PM, May 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-11 13:05:09-04

In a vote of 340-72, the House voted Thursday to revive a plan to create a nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas in Nye County.

It's a controversial plan that's been a concern for Nevada for decades. The bill would allow licensing to move forward for Yucca.

RELATED: House approvesbillon Nevada's Yucca Mountain

All of Nevada's representatives voted against the plan, which has consistently had bipartisan opposition from Nevada lawmakers.

But what does this plan mean? It would still have to go the Senate, where both Sens. Dean Heller (R) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D) are vowing to fight it.

A Long History

Former Governor and U.S. Senator Richard Bryan tells 13 Action News the vote Thursday is "nothing new." He says he's been dealing with the Yucca Mountain idea since the early 1980s when he was governor.

RELATED: A History of Yucca Mountain 1982-2018

In 1982, Congress began searching the country for potential nuclear dump sites in three states, but Bryan says the problem started in 1987 when they passed the so-called "screw Nevada" bill which limited the study to only Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

It wasn't until 2002 that the Bush administration signed off a resolution to move forward, but then in 2010, Obama reversed course, cutting funding to the plan.

Yucca Mountain Returns

So why is it coming back again? Bryan believes it's coming from the Trump administration.

"Clearly the Trump administration is close to oil, coal, and nuclear industries, and so their agenda in terms of the energy front is to Katy bar the door, and say 'whatever you want.'"

He says he doesn't believe the plan will make it past the Senate, because it operates differently than the House and a filibuster is an option. But he says even if it were to pass, there are still questions about the science of the plan and potentially significant legal challenges that would come up, not to mention the fact that nothing has been constructed.  He says it would be years before anything would be seen at Yucca.

Bullfrog County?

The move by Congress to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project brings back memories of a wild plan by the state of Nevada to block the repository back in 1987. 

The state Legislature actually created a tiny, new county around Yucca Mountain and called it “Bullfrog County." Bullfrog County was only 144 square miles in area, had no paved roads and zero population.

"I even appointed county commissioners who were friends of mine," jokes Richard Bryan. "I don't know how many meetings they actually had," he says.

But it did have a staggering 20-percent tax rate -- the highest permitted by the Nevada constitution. The idea was to discourage the federal government from building the waste repository by making the costs outrageously high.  But, the creation of Bullfrog County was ruled unconstitutional, and in 1989, the Legislature dissolved its boundaries -- leaving Yucca Mountain once again in Nye County.