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Cortez Masto Secures Administration Promise Not to Pursue Yucca Mountain

March 03, 2020

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Washington, D.C. – In today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing about the administration’s FY 2021 budget, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette about President Trump’s promise not to move forward with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. She also pressed him to reaffirm the Department of Energy’s (DOE) commitment to honor an agreement she secured with the Department to remove a half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from the state starting in 2021.

“The President has said that he will respect the voices of Nevadans and look for alternative nuclear waste storage solutions rather than continue to force the unsafe and unworkable Yucca Mountain project,” said the Senator. “[A]re you still working towards a pathway to some sort of permanent storage at Yucca Mountain?”

Secretary Brouillette replied that although the Nuclear Waste Policy Act designates Yucca Mountain as the final repository for waste, “it is also the law of the land that we cannot spend money that has not been appropriated, and there have been zero funds appropriated for Yucca Mountain. That stalemate is largely the result of the voices here in Congress, the voices of the people of Nevada, and we have reached the point where the president has decided that we will not pursue this over the objections of the people of Nevada. So I want to state clearly and for the record: the Administration will not pursue Yucca Mountain as a final repository.”

Senator Cortez Masto asked whether the administration would pursue permanent storage at Yucca Mountain if Congress did move forward with appropriating funds.

“We will follow the law, obviously,” responded Secretary Brouillette, “but it’s our intent to look for alternatives to Yucca Mountain. It’s our intent to begin a process—and that’s why we’ve requested $27.5 million in the budget—to . . . look at research and development that might lead to alternatives to that final repository at Yucca Mountain.”

“What we’re looking to do is give the states a say and a voice in this process, including all the stakeholders,” said the Senator. “Is that something that you would oppose or support?”

“We would certainly support that type of process, yes,” replied Secretary Brouillette.

“And the alternative solutions—can I ask that Nevada be a part of that discussion and have an integral say in how that plays out?” asked the Senator. “And a commitment from you for that?”

“Yes, absolutely,” answered Secretary Brouillette.

“I’ve gotten a commitment to begin removing the plutonium from NNSS by 2021 and complete removal by end of 2026,” said the Senator. “Will the Department still be able to meet its commitment to remove that plutonium from the Nevada National Security Site by 2026?”

Secretary Brouillette indicated that DOE would be able to adhere to that timeline.

Full video of this exchange is available here.

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