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U.S. Senator Masto Warns Against Yucca Mountain

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Washington, D.C. – On May 1st  U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) during a hearing on the discussion draft of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019. In her testimony, she stated her strong opposition to any nuclear waste storage at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain facility and emphasized that Yucca Mountain is seismically and geologically unfit to store dangerous nuclear waste. Below is her testimony as prepared for delivery.

Senator Cortez Masto’s testimony is available in both AUDIO AND VIDEO FORMAT. You may download video of her remarks HERE and audio HERE.

Good Morning Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Carper, and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to sit before you today, along with my Nevada colleague, Senator Jacky Rosen, to discuss the legislative draft before you and our opposition to Yucca Mountain.

I last sat at this table in October 2007, almost 12 years ago, as the Attorney General for the State of Nevada. At the time, I provided testimony before the Committee on this very topic.

For over 30 years, many in Congress have been trying to force a repository facility on Nevada, despite the fact that Nevada does not generate or consume nuclear energy, and that Yucca Mountain is a seismically and geologically unfit site to store this dangerous material.

A vast majority of Nevadans opposed Yucca Mountain when the site was selected as the nation’s sole repository back in 1987, and they continue to do so today.

Over the years, this committee has heard from both Republican and Democratic Governors and Members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation, as well as environmental advocates, and our state’s prominent travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries – all of whom are united in their opposition to Yucca Mountain.

Today, I would like to dispel a few misconceptions.

Many believe Yucca Mountain is settled science. That Yucca Mountain was selected through a reasoned and thorough process. Or that Yucca Mountain is already equipped to receive nuclear waste.

Well, they are wrong.

In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, creating a structure for a final repository siting. This structure established a schedule for selection of a first repository to be made among three candidates in a Western state, followed by the selection of a second repository from a set of five candidates in an Eastern state, along with consideration of an interim site to be located at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

It also allowed all states to have a voice in this process by granting them a veto.

The amount of waste to be stored at the first repository was capped at 70,000 metric tons as a compromise to ensure that not just one facility would be the recipient of the nation’s waste, knowing that much more than this amount would ultimately be required for final repose in the future.

But faced with political pressures, the Reagan Administration indefinitely postponed the search for an Eastern second repository site in 1986 – unravelling a key compromise of the 1982 law. Later, in 1987, Congress dropped the scientific-based compromise process, nullified the selection of an interim site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and arbitrarily designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site for a repository, despite strong opposition from the State of Nevada.

I ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of Nevadans.

Imagine having nuclear waste sent to your communities without your input, without a fair process.

That is why Nevadans have been united in the fight to ensure that not an ounce of nuclear waste makes it to Yucca Mountain.

Mr. Chairman, people often falsely think that Yucca Mountain is ready to receive waste. That is far from the case.

The federal government has spent $19 billion with little to show in result. There are no waste disposal tunnels. No waste handling facilities. No monitoring infrastructure. No containment infrastructure. No railroad infrastructure needed for transporting waste into the site.

All that exists at Yucca Mountain is a five mile exploratory hole in the ground to study the geology and hydrology of the mountain.

Yucca Mountain is also a national security threat.

The Nevada Test and Training Range, which is directly adjacent to Yucca Mountain, is home to 75 percent of Air Force live munitions testing, making it the largest air and ground military training space in the country.

According to Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, if Yucca Mountain were to ever hold nuclear waste, it would directly impact the readiness of our military by harming the ability of our nation’s military to train for combat.

Yucca Mountain is a scientifically unsuitable site for a nuclear repository.

Yucca sits on active fault lines. In 1996, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake damaged the Yucca Mountain Project field operations center.

Imagine what would happen if there is a stronger earthquake.

Numerous studies have also found that the groundwater around the repository is at risk of contamination, affecting communities across Nevada and California.

Mr. Chairman, all we are asking today is that Nevada is treated fairly, that it is treated the same as every other state.

Congress should not, and cannot, shove nuclear waste down our throats.

All states must be given parity in order to find a solution that works.

That is why Senator Rosen and I have introduced alternative legislation that guarantees every state has a seat at the table.

Our bill, S.649, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act would require the federal government to obtain the consent of a potential host state before moving forward. And I would like to thank Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works members Senators Booker, Sanders and Gillibrand for cosponsoring our legislation.

The current bill before this committee continues on an unworkable path that only delays the country from finding a solution to our nuclear waste dilemma.

So why waste decades and billions of taxpayer dollars when we can work together to come up with a viable solution to our nuclear storage problem?

I stand ready to work with the members of this committee and the rest of my colleagues in the Senate to find a sustainable solution that ensures all parties have a voice in this process.

Thank you.


In March, Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen introduced legislation to ensure Nevadans have a voice in any plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. The Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act requires the consent of the Governor, affected local governments and impacted local tribes in order to spend money from the Nuclear Waste Fund for the construction of a nuclear waste repository. The Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

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Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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