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Monday, May 1, 2017

As the former deputy general counsel of the Department of Energy during the Reagan administration, serving with Secretary Jim Edwards, I know the department has very competent personnel and we are fortunate for the leadership of Secretary Rick Perry.

Since the beginning of our nation’s nuclear history — from the Manhattan Project, through the Cold War, to our commercial facilities today — our country has been searching for a permanent, long-term storage option to safely and securely store our nation’s nuclear waste.


In 1987, after exhaustive Department of Energy studies, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was selected as the nation’s permanent long-term repository for all high-level waste, and significant resources were directed to constructing and licensing the facility.

It is an ideal repository — located on federal land near an early site for Cold War nuclear weapons testing; rated environmentally safe for over 1 million years (far exceeding the 10,000-year standard); and supported by officials of Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located.

In 2010, without citing any scientific or technical data, the previous administration decided to halt progress on Yucca Mountain by preventing the Department of Energy from cooperating with the required licensing process, leaving the country without a plan for a permanent repository. It is in the interest of our national security, fiscal responsibility and environmental cleanup missions to complete the nonpartisan, fact-based licensing process for Yucca Mountain.

Having a single, permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste is critical for our national security.

Right now, nuclear waste is stored at 121 sites across 39 states. Each one is above ground, burdensome and costly to secure. Having a single location for nuclear waste, 1,000 feet underground, is far more effective to securely store our nuclear waste while also being environmentally sound.

Completing the licensing process for Yucca Mountain is also fiscally responsible. For decades, taxpayers have contributed billions of dollars towards the completion of Yucca Mountain. Additionally, ratepayers from energy utilities across the country, including those in South Carolina, Illinois, New York and more, have poured over $30 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, which may only be used towards the licensing, construction and operation of Yucca Mountain.

Finally, our environmental cleanup mission for nuclear material hinges on a Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision on Yucca Mountain.

There is no permanent repository for high-level waste, leaving hundreds of tons of high-level waste in interim storage. In many cases — like at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and adjacent to Augusta, Georgia — this storage was only intended to be temporary, but sites are forced to store the waste for far longer than intended because there is no permanent repository.

While the technology is constantly improving to prolong storage capabilities, the fact remains that the only safe way to store the material long-term is in a geological repository — something uniquely available at the Yucca Mountain facility. It is imperative that we make progress on a permanent disposal option.

In January, I introduced the Sensible Nuclear Waste Disposition Act, commonsense legislation that simply requires that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission make a licensing decision about Yucca Mountain before the Department of Energy can consider other options for long-term waste.

I am confident in the high standards of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process and am confident that Yucca Mountain will get a comprehensive examination — one that prioritizes safety and environmental protections for citizens of Nevada.

I am encouraged that President Donald Trump’s budget outline included $120 million to restart the licensing process, but also urge the passage of my legislation in order to affirm Congress’ commitment to a long-term storage plan for our nuclear material.

We have a national duty to work towards a permanent repository for nuclear material, and the Department of Energy, under the extraordinary leadership of Secretary Rick Perry, should ensure we see the licensing process on Yucca Mountain to completion before abandoning it for any other alternative.

The federal government should finish what they started — or, at the very least — make an official decision on Yucca before spending billions of dollars on a duplicative facility.

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson represents the 2nd Congressional District in South Carolina. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, where he is chairman of the subcommittee on readiness and a member of the subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities.


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