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Biden administration opposes Yucca Mountain, energy secretary nominee confirms

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Yucca Mountain portal (copy)

This 2018 file photo shows people leaving the south portal of the idled Yucca Mountain site during a congressional tour of the repository.

Yucca Mountain appears to be a nonstarter – again.

The Biden administration, days old now, “opposes the use” of the controversial repository “for storage of nuclear waste,” Jennifer Granholm, the president’s pick for energy secretary, affirmed Wednesday during her confirmation hearing.

Instead, Granholm promised, alternatives will “absolutely” be pursued, as toxic wastes remain trapped at dozens of sites across the U.S. Officials with the Trump administration made similar commitments last year.

Granholm’s Wednesday comments came at the behest of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and staunch Yucca Mountain opponent.

“Yucca Mountain. We know it has been a failed policy,” Cortez Masto said, beginning her line of state-specific questioning. She continued: “We still have challenges with really addressing the high-level nuclear waste storage that we have in this country. Yucca Mountain is not the answer.”

Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, was identified in the 1980s as the nation’s potential nuclear storehouse – where some of the worst wastes would be sent and kept. The project flatlined under President Barack Obama and has failed to gain traction since, much to the disappointment of some Palmetto State politicians.

South Carolina’s Jeff Duncan, a Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District, has pitched the idled repository as the lawful solution to the waste deadlock at the Savannah River Site.

“Get it off the shores of Lake Keowee,” Duncan has said of nuclear waste. “Let’s get it away from the Savannah River Site.”

The Biden administration’s stance against Yucca Mountain, as relayed by Granholm, isn’t exactly surprising.

The president has long opposed the endeavor. And as a senator, Vice President Kamala Harris co-sponsored the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, legislation introduced by Cortez Masto that would require the Department of Energy to secure approval from a state’s governor, local-level governments and neighboring tribes before a nuclear waste repository could be built.

In an interview with the Aiken Standard in late 2019, Harris emphasized that local consent and decision-making is critical for successful storage and disposal.

“Communities have to be given the power to consent to what they want, meaning communities should have the authority to make the decisions about what happens to their communities,” Harris said at the time. “And what happens in those communities includes whether or not there’s going to be a nuclear site there.”

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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