Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Nuclear waste at center of testy Nevada Senate race

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun1,2024

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sam Brown is under fire from Democrats for 2022 remarks in which he expressed support for plans to store federal nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

Nevada lawmakers from both parties have strongly resisted a federal plan to turn the isolated southwest Nevada mountain — about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas — into a nuclear waste storage facility since the idea was first proposed in the 1980s.

But Brown has expressed support for the idea in the past, and he can be heard in a new recording from his 2022 campaign saying the state risked losing out on an opportunity if it blocked the plans.

“If we don’t act soon, other states … are assessing whether or not they can essentially steal that opportunity from us,” he said in the recording, first obtained by The Los Angeles Times.

Brown, who is seen as a favorite in Nevada’s GOP Senate primary this June, said in a statement to The Hill he was not actively calling for the reopening of Yucca Mountain, but that future proposals should be considered.

“I am not strictly committed to opening Yucca Mountain at this time,” Brown said. “However, I will consider all thoroughly vetted future proposals, with the safety of Nevadans being my top priority, while ensuring the proposals are substantially economically beneficial.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who is running for reelection, quickly seized on the comments. Rosen is seen as vulnerable this fall in a state where former President Trump is up in polls. The Cook Political Report lists her seat as a toss-up.

“For decades, Nevadans across party lines have been clear that we will not allow our state to become the dumping ground for the rest of the nation’s nuclear waste,” Rosen said in a statement. “I’ve been fighting against Washington politicians trying to force nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain since Sam Brown was still living in Texas, and his extreme support for this dangerous and unpopular project underscores how little he understands the needs of our state.”

Brown campaign communications director Kristy Wilkinson in a statement to The Hill accused Rosen of “continuing the Harry Reid machine’s dirty political tactic of fear-mongering for votes — just in time for her struggling reelection bid.”

Reid, the longtime Nevada senator and Democratic leader who died in 2021, made Yucca Mountain a national political issue, organizing resistance after Congress passed legislation to fund the project in 2002. Former Secretary of State John Kerry added his opposition to the idea to his 2004 presidential campaign platform thanks to pressure from Reid, and the Obama administration halted work on the repository completely in 2010.

Former President Trump supported Yucca Mountain funding early in his presidency, but he backed off the promise in 2020 under pressure from Republicans in the state. Trump has not discussed Yucca Mountain policy since the 2020 race, though the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 plan does support construction.

The Biden administration has repeatedly stated it has no plans to move forward with the Yucca Mountain repository.

Brown’s openness to restarting work at Yucca Mountain is backed by public officials in Nye County, a sparsely-populated area directly surrounding the Nevada Test Site.

In 2019, county commissioners wrote to Congress in support of the project, writing they have “favored a full and fair review of the science by the NRC for years.”

“We want decisions to be made on Yucca Mountain to be based on facts and science, and not empty rhetoric and fear mongering,” they wrote.

Backers have generally brushed off concerns from environmentalists, citing extensive geological studies finding that Yucca Mountain is one of the safer options for waste storage nationally.

The issue rose in Congress again last month, when House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) brought up an effort to advance the Yucca Mountain project after years without work.

“Opposition has inhibited congressional appropriations and driven the executive branch to dismantle what has otherwise been a technically successful program,” McMorris Rodgers said in a hearing. “We must continue this committee’s work to update the law and build state support for our permanent repository at Yucca Mountain.”

“For years, I have been fighting to prevent Nevada from becoming the nation’s dumping ground for nuclear waste,” Rosen said in a statement responding to McMorris Rodgers’s comments. “Nevadans have made clear that they don’t consent to this nuclear waste being shipped to or stored in our state, and I’ll continue working to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The comments from Brown and House members have sparked a new wave of Yucca Mountain opposition from Nevada lawmakers.

“We feel like that the science is not good,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) told The Hill. “There’s a fault out there, the water table, you got to transport [nuclear waste] through Las Vegas because there aren’t many roads or railroads there. One little accident would destroy our economy.”

“We don’t use nuclear power, we don’t make it. So why are we the dumping ground,” she continued.

Titus blamed the resurgence in conversation over Yucca Mountain on what she dubbed “Yucca fatigue,” a drop in opposition enthusiasm over time. She doesn’t think the fatigue will last.

“They have to be reminded, ‘Hey, this is just down the road, don’t forget about it,’” she said. “It’s a statewide feeling. You had Democratic and Republican governors, Democratic and Republican senators, members of the House, all united on this.”

Local environmental organizations, meanwhile, have also long expressed concerns about the prospect of using Yucca Mountain for waste storage, in particular pointing to concerns around the prospect of waste seeping into aquifers.

“As the driest state in the nation, Nevada knows our water resources are precious and need to be protected, not put at greater risk,” Nevada Conservation League’s executive director, Kristee Watson, told The Hill in an email.

Taylor Patterson, executive director at Native Voters Alliance Nevada, described Yucca Mountain as an issue where Western Shoshone tribes in particular have been vocal for years.

“It’s crazy that we still have to re-address this after years and years and years,” she told The Hill.

Nuclear energy experts have been skeptical about the idea of a deal on Yucca Mountain as well.

In an op-ed for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published Tuesday, David M. Kaus, who served as a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Energy during the Obama administration, called a Yucca Mountain deal a “fantasy.” 

Kaus noted the logistical hurdles that would be involved in the process at the state level even if a federal agreement emerges in an interview with The Hill.

No matter the long road to project work at Yucca Mountain, just the talk of funding could rile the Silver State Senate race.

A The Hill/Nexstar poll of the Nevada Senate race released Tuesday found Rosen with an 8-point lead over Brown, taking 45 percent of the vote to Brown’s 37 percent. The senator also leads fundraising by a large margin, raising $23.6 million over the course of the campaign to Brown’s $5.3 million.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Nuclear waste at center of testy Nevada Senate race”
  1. I find it concerning that Sam Brown is open to the idea of storing federal nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. This could have serious environmental and safety implications for Nevada residents. I believe we should prioritize the well-being of our communities over any potential economic benefits.

  2. As a Nevada resident, it’s concerning to see a candidate like Sam Brown express support for storing federal nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. We’ve been fighting against this for decades, and it’s crucial that our safety and well-being are prioritized over potential economic gains.

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