Energy Secretary Rick Perry said dozens of nuclear waste storage facilities across the United States are “less than satisfactory” during a Congressional hearing Wednesday.
Perry sat before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to field questions on the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019. GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California took the chance to ask about the administration’s stance on the “Yucca Mountain debate,” a decades-long struggle to set up a permanent repository of nuclear waste in the Nevada.
“There are 38 states that have nuclear material stored in less than satisfactory places, one of the them being San Onofre [in California],” Perry responded. “I have got great concern about San Onofre being in the Circle of Fire. It’s exactly the same geological area that Fukushima was in, and so the idea that you could have a major earthquake and, with that, a tragic event … That could be disastrous to our country.”
Congress designated Yucca Mountain a nuclear waste storage facility in 1987. The Department of Energy was processing and studying the site and preparing it for federal licensing when the Obama administration defunded the application in 2011, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
Nevadans have fought against making Yucca a permanent storage facility for the country’s nuclear waste. While the debate has lied dormant for over half-a-decade, a bill set to be voted on by Congress Thursday could override Nevadans’ protests to continue the federal licensing of Yucca.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 should pass with a large, bipartisan majority, the bill’s author, GOP Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, believes.
Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who spoke to Perry immediately after Rohrabacher, said turning Yucca Mountain into the U.S. repository for nuclear waste would threaten national security.
“For decades, Nevadans have been fighting our state being a dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste,” Rosen said. “What I want to do is emphasize that Yucca Mountain is also a threat to our national security because the site is located on DOE’s national security site.”
The national security site “provides DOE and other government agencies with unique, high-hazard testing environments.” Also, Yucca Mountain sits next to a large military training base that houses three-quarters of all the country’s Air Force live munitions.
“Yucca Mountain is actually seismically active, as well,” Rosen said, referencing the danger of storing nuclear waste in San Onofre.
The DOE is communicating with the Department of Defense over military and national security concerns related to Yucca Mountain, Perry responded.
“The important aspect of this issue from a DOE standpoint and a secretary of Energy standpoint is that I have a requirement of law to take this licensing process forward,” Perry said. “The debate on Yucca, whether it should be open or shouldn’t be open, that’s been going on a long time … [My responsibility] is to follow the law, and the law says the DOE will go forward with the licensing side of it.”
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