Will Rick Perry Back Storing Nuclear Waste At Yucca Mountain?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was unclear if he still backed not storing nuclear waste in states where it’s unpopular if he’s confirmed as energy secretary.

Perry also did not commit to killing plans to open a national nuclear waste storage facility in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Residents and virtually all of Nevada’s elected officials oppose opening the Yucca facility. The lack of a permanent site to store waste has been a major drag on the nuclear power industry.

“In 2011, at the Presidential debate in Las Vegas you came out in favor of consent based siting in regards to Yucca Mountain arguing that if  Nevadans do not want it, and I’ll tell you right now that 58 percent do not want it, then they should not have it…do you still support consent based citing for Yucca Mountain?,” Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Cortez Masto asked Perry Thursday.

Perry previously opposed to the federal government’s plan to do so in favor of “allowing the states to compete with each other.”

“I made a statement about federalism and I still believe in it strongly,” Perry replied. “I am very aware that this is an issue this country has been flummoxed by for 30 years. We have spent billions of dollars on this issue … I’ll work closely with you and the members of this committee to find the answers to this issue.”

Political opposition from former Nevada Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama prevented the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site from opening, leaving nuclear plants without a good place to store spent fuel. Their opposition created legal liabilities for the federal government that could exceed $50 billion.

The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June of 2008 and the project met the NRC’s safety standards in October of 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of 1 million years.

If Nevada won’t accept storing nuclear waste, the U.S. may end up outsourcing such storage to a proposed multi-national nuclear waste facility in Australia.

Australia’s government is considering building such a facility, which it claims would offer huge economic benefits to southern Australia and would be much more efficient than smaller national waste storage facilities.

The facility could generate $73.5 billion in economic benefits for the region over the next 120 years while generating $188 billion in revenue for the government, mostly from other countries paying to dispose of their nuclear waste. Adding these economic benefits shows that building the facility will make Australia $262 billion, which is far more than the proposed costs of about $106 billion.

The report estimates that building the Australian facility would create 4,500 full times jobs and operating it would create another 600 full time jobs.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

(Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Perry’ did not commit to keeping nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain)

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