Las Vegas Casino Execs Sign Yucca Mountain Letter

Las Vegas Casinos Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste

The Department of Energy asked Congress for $120 million to fund Yucca Mountain, but Las Vegas casinos executives want to end funding altogether.

Las Vegas casino executives signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requesting the federal government withdraw funding for the Yucca Mountain project. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository over 30 years ago, but the facility has sparked debates ever since.

Exececutives for the big four Vegas Strip casino companies signed the letter, including Las Vegas Sands’ Sheldon Adelon, MGM Resorts’ Jim Murren, departing Caesars Entertainment CEO Mark Frissora, and Wynn Resorts’ CEO Matt Maddox stayed in lock step on the Yucca Mountain project.

Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine and Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce President Mary Beth Sewald also signed the letter.

The casino executives and other prominent Nevada business leaders asked the Trump Administration to assure,“Yucca Mountain remains part of Nevada’s past and that nuclear waste is never again stored anywhere near the world’s entertainment capital.”

The state’s new governor, Steve Sisolak (D), led the push to lobby the federal government on behalf of Nevada.

Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Facility

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) to devise a strategy for nuclear waste disposal. Four years later, Congress amended the NWPA to make Yucca Mountain “a permanent repository for all of the nation’s nuclear waste.”

For over 25 years, Yucca Mountain received funding as a federal nuclear waste disposal facility. Then former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) convinced former President Barack Obama to remove funding for Yucca Mountain. Funding ended in April 2011 with Obama’s signing of the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act.

Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, established by the Obama era’s Secretary of Energy, recommended a permanent site for disposing of nuclear waste. The Blue Ribbon Commission even stated an “urgent need” for such a facility.

During the Trump Era, federal officials have discussed reversing the Obama-era policy. At the same time, the DOE ceased deep borehole and other non-Yucca Mountain waste disposition research activities. Deep borehole drilling is considered a possible cause of earthquakes.

Where America Stores Nuclear Waste

DOE policy remains unsettled. Most US nuclear plants resorted to indefinite on-site dry cask storage of waste, which requires steel and concrete casks. As officials explored ways to fix the nuclear waste problems, the DOE requested $120 million from Congress to fund the Yucca Mountain facility.

Gov. Sisolak took the lead in opposing a reversal, which included working with Nevada business and political leaders. The response from Nevada’s business community has been near-unanimous. Casino executives joined with non-gaming professionals to lobby the US Congress and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

Sisolak to Rick Perry

Sisolak wrote in the letter to the US Energy Department, “As Nevada leaders — both Democrats and Republicans — have done for decades, my administration and I will continue to oppose the Department of Energy’s unsafe plans for plutonium and nuclear waste storage in our state.”

The letter points to federal agencies which said Nevada waste storage is unsafe. Sisolak added, “As the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board — a federal safety board — pointed out recently, earthquake risks make the Nevada National Security Site unsuitable for plutonium and make Yucca Mountain unsuitable for nuclear waste.”

Nellis Air Force Base Cited

Sisolak cited Nellis Air Force Base, which is 7.4 miles from Las Vegas, in his letter. The AFB, which is only a 21-minute drive into Downtown Las Vegas, hold’s more Air Force squadrons than any other military base in North America. Protecting such a base therefore has resonance with federal planners.

Nevada’s leaders wrote, “Furthermore, the proximity of Nellis Air Force Base to both sites increases the unacceptable risk of accidents and exposure of nearby communities to toxic material.”

The Yucca Mountain facility is roughly 335 miles and a 5-hour, 40-minute drive from Las Vegas. Federal authorities built the Yucca Mountain waste disposal facility in the middle of Nevada’s desert, away from civilization. The only local landmarks bear colorful names like Skull Mountain, Sugar Bunker, and Camp Desert Rock.

Yucca Mountain has its share of supporters, such as resolutely pro-Yucca Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois). Jordan Haverly, Shimkus’s spokesman, tweeted a response to the letter. Though Haverly’s knowledge of Nevada’s distances seemed a bit off, Haverly posted, “If spent nuclear fuel 90 miles from the Las Vegas Strip would stop 42 million people from visiting annually, why didn’t the spent nuclear fuel sitting 49 miles from the Chicago Loop stop 55 million people from visiting last year.”