The defeat of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) could remove one major political obstacle to funding and other legislative measures that would advance the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) took slightly more than 50 percent of the statewide vote to unseat Heller in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The first-term congresswoman, who will be elevated to the Senate in January, has like her opponent vehemently rejected the idea of shipping tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the state.
But the lack of movement on Yucca Mountain legislation in the current Senate has been at least partly predicated on protecting Heller’s seat and what was a slim 51-49 GOP majority in the upper chamber. It was widely accepted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not want to pass any measure that could be used as a political weapon against Heller.
Even with the loss in Nevada, Republicans increased their Senate edge going into the 116th Congress, meaning they could be more amenable to measures intended to address the long impasse on permanent disposal of the nation’s nuclear waste.
It might not even take until January for that to happen. A spokesman for resolutely pro-Yucca Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) suggested the project could get funding in an appropriations bill that would succeed a short-term continuing resolution that is funding a number of federal agencies through Dec. 7.
“House appropriators know very well we want this funding,” Shimkus spokesman Jordan Haverly said Wednesday morning.
Haverly did not discuss specifics of the potential funding or the future of Shimkus’ Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, which contains a host of measures that would strengthen the federal government’s ability to build Yucca Mountain. The House in May passed the bill by a vote of 340-72, but it has yet to show up on the Senate calendar.
The Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, respectively the applicant and potential licensor for Yucca Mountain, have already received full-year funding for fiscal 2019. Both got nothing for work on the repository.