- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The retirement of Sen. Harry Reid may give new life to a project he’s made a career out of opposing.

For years, the Senate minority leader and Nevada Democrat has been the most vocal opponent of a plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a remote site less than 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Analysts say Mr. Reid’s staunch political opposition to the proposal partly led to the Obama administration to pull the plug on Yucca Mountain in 2011.

But the incoming Trump administration reportedly wants to give the site another look, and they’ll no longer have to deal with the politically powerful Mr. Reid, who has served in the Senate since 1987 and been his party’s leader in the chamber since 2005.

Even diehard opponents of the Yucca Mountain proposal concede that the debate around the facility had become almost entirely about Mr. Reid and his heavy-handed opposition, creating a narrative that he was the sole reason the project never came to fruition.

“The great irony here is that because Sen. Reid has been so successful in using his knowledge of the Senate rules, procedures, and powers to hobble the Department of Energy’s program, there are lots of people who have come to the reasonable conclusion that the problem with Yucca Mountain is Harry Reid,” said Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Mr. Halstead argues that there are other problems with the proposal.

He says it’s too expensive — the cost at the beginning of the Obama administration was estimated at nearly $100 billion — and that it’s simply the wrong place to store the roughly 77,000 tons of used fuel from nuclear power reactors. That fuel is currently stored on site at nuclear power facilities across the country, defying a 1982 federal law that calls on the government to find a permanent, safe location.

Other Nevada political figures are hoping to step in and fill the immense power gap created by Mr. Reid’s departure, though none have the clout of the outgoing minority leader.

“We’re going to do everything we can to stop this,” Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said over the summer, conceding that he expects a renewed push with Mr. Reid out of the way.

But other lawmakers remain committed to Yucca. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, backs the proposal and has urged fellow lawmakers to move forward both on temporary solutions and a more permanent fix in the form of Yucca Mountain.

“We need to move on all tracks at the same time to solve the nuclear waste stalemate,” he said at a congressional hearing this fall.

The project, originally approved by Congress in 2002, was scrapped by the Obama administration in 2011. That decision came despite years of research and billions of dollars allocated to the proposal.

Soon after the White House seemingly killed Yucca, the Government Accountability Office slammed the move as purely political, and there’s long been speculation that Mr. Reid’s political maneuvering was the main reason the project was halted.

With Mr. Reid gone, and Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, analysts say the GOP could revive the project, first by appropriating money for the necessary licensing processes.

Harry Reid controlled the purse strings Getting Harry out of the way to get at least a chance for a normal appropriations process [including money for Yucca Mountain] would be very helpful,” said Gary Lanthrum, an engineer who worked for over a decade at the Department of Energy.

Even with Mr. Reid’s departure, he continued, there are still significant roadblocks.

Mr. Lanthrum estimated the construction licensing process alone would take at least three years, possibly longer given the hard-line opposition from stakeholders in Nevada and elsewhere.

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