Nye County, Nevada is located in the southern part of the state — at its southeastern border is Clark County, which is home to Las Vegas. Geographically, Nye County is quite large and its southern land areas are largely devoted to the activities of the federal government. Among those activities is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain geologic repository for disposal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste.
In December 2008, Nye County intervened in the administrative proceeding established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to consider whether to grant to DOE an authorization for the construction of Yucca Mountain (the proceeding began when DOE filed an application for a construction authorization in June 2008). In February 2010, the Obama Administration and DOE announced plans to terminate the Yucca Mountain project and withdraw from NRC review the construction authorization application. Nye County opposed both the withdrawal before NRC and also opposed the termination decision in federal court. Although the request to withdraw the construction authorization application was denied in June 2010, the proceeding was suspended by NRC in September 2011 because the U.S. Congress had not appropriated any funds for its continuation. The federal judicial proceeding is still continuing as of March 2012.
In January 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future issued its final report recommending one or more sites for the consolidated, long-term storage of SNF and also recommended that the siting of any such storage facility should receive the “consent” of the local host community, any affected Indian Tribes and the state. On March 6, 2012, the Board of County Commissioners for Nye County wrote a letter to the DOE Secretary that contained the following expression of interest:
“We look forward to working with you in the ongoing quest for solutions to the challenges associated with the disposition of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and defense high level waste (DHLW).”
Nye County also expressed its “consent” to host the Yucca Mountain geologic repository. Although Nye County’s letter did not address the issue of siting a long-term, consolidated storage facility at Yucca Mountain, or provide its consent for such a site, there is an expectation in the industry that if Nye County is willing to host a disposal facility they would be willing to host a storage facility. Particularly, if the area has already been deemed acceptable by the federal government for a disposal facility with attendant surface operations, there is an expectation that a surface storage facility could be located there as well or instead.
Consistent with its position for the past 30 years against the use of Yucca Mountain as a geologic repository for the disposal of SNF and high-level radioactive waste, and its opposition to DOE’s construction authorization application before NRC, the Governor of the State of Nevada wrote to the DOE Secretary on March 12, 2012 to express the following position:
“There should be no uncertainty or misunderstanding of my position with regard to an interim spent fuel storage site or repository site in Nevada; the State of Nevada does not support the location of any such site within the State and will oppose any attempt to either resurrect the defunct Yucca Mountain or locate an interim storage facility at Yucca or elsewhere in Nevada. While I am cognizant of the letter sent to you last week from Nye County expressing support for a Yucca Mountain repository, Nye County does not and cannot speak for the State of Nevada.”
The State of Nevada makes clear that its does not consent to either disposal or storage of SNF at Yucca Mountain. The Timbisha Shoshone Indian Tribe (the affected Indian Tribe nearby Yucca Mountain) has not publicly expressed its position, although during the NRC adminstrative proceeding for the Yucca Mountain construction authorization the Tribe intervened in opposition to the project.
As of the end of March 2012, DOE has not responded publicly to either letter. It is also not known whether DOE will meet with either or both Nye County or the State of Nevada to discuss the use of Yucca Mountain as either a disposal or storage facility for SNF.