It’s time to rethink Yucca

By Randi Thompson

A nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain should be dead. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, created in 1982, said at the time that long-term storage of nuclear spent fuel was the only option. But technological advancements in nuclear spent fuel research shows that putting this product in the ground is an outdated idea.

UNR, UNLV, Department of Energy national labs, General Electric, and many other companies and universities have for years been researching ways to reprocess spent fuel, and even how to turn it into a power source. That is what Nevada’s leaders should be considering; that is what they should be negotiating.

Yucca Mountain could be the premier nuclear energy research site in the country. Our state could lead the nation in developing ways to reuse spent fuel as a fuel source. And really, where better to locate such an energy park then at Yucca Mountain and the former Nuclear Test Site, a place that continues to lead the nation in nuclear exploration?

We as a nation have to address the growing stockpiles of nuclear spent fuel, and Nevada’s leaders should be working with Congress and the federal government to change the concept of a waste repository into a nuclear energy research park. In return for helping address the national problem of relocating the nuclear spent fuel that is being stored all around the country, we should negotiate a deal that ensures Nevada gains financially for our willingness to help.

Nevada has an opportunity to create a world-class research center that can chart the course for nuclear energy production for the next century. Using the completed Yucca Mountain facility (yes, it was completed before it was shuttered), this center can lead the nation in developing technologies to generate power by reprocessing spent fuel as well as advance renewable energies. The “Nevada Energy Park” could develop new industries, generate new sources of clean energy, create thousands of high-paying jobs, and generate funds for the state budget.  

Such an energy park has broad support in our state. In 2012, a statewide poll related to Yucca Mountain showed that 62 percent of Nevadans support the creation of a nuclear research park for the study of reprocessing of nuclear spent fuel at Yucca Mountain. The survey was conducted by reputable pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies and polled 500 likely voters.

The poll showed that 75 percent of rural residents (primarily in the southern part of the state and in Nye County where Yucca is located) supported opening the site. In Clark County, 100 miles away, 61 percent of Clark County residents supported it, while 60 percent of residents in Washoe County were in support.  

Instead of fighting the federal government, we should work with them to update the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, toss out the idea of repository, and instead create a nuclear energy research center.

Randi Thompson worked for the Department of Energy under the Reagan and Bush administration. She is now a government relations consultant in Reno.

Feature photo of “Yucca Mountain in Nevada” by Nuclear Regulatory Commission is licensed under CC BY 2.0