Rural senator pushes for interim nuclear storage facility on contaminated land in Nevada Test Site


By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Pete Goecoichea, R-Eureka, knows rural Nevada better than any lawmaker in the state.

He has had a 15-year career so far in the Legislature as a senator and assemblyman representing rural counties and won’t be termed out until 2025.

Before first getting elected to the Legislature in 2002, Goecoichea spent 16 years as a Eureka County commissioner in rural Nevada.


His District 19 is one of the largest legislatives districts in America, stretching north to the borders with Oregon and Idaho to south of Las Vegas to the California border.

He said on Nevada Newsmakers Wednesday that he remains skeptical about the logic of making Yucca Mountain a deep geological repository for high level radioactive waste in the United States.

“I’ve been in that tunnel and that first quarter mile in there has a lot of gravel, lots of timber and steel in to stabilize that mountain,” Goecoichea said. “I’ll let science determine if that ever would be a good repository site.”

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Yet he would like to see part of the former Nevada (Nuclear) Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, used as an interim storage site for nuclear waste. Building the rail line and other infrastructure to transport the nuclear waste to Nevada could bring in “billions of dollars,” he said. The spent fuel rods could also become a source of wealth for Nevada in the future, as technology of nuclear energy only improves with time.

The land he has in mind is called Jackass Flats, near Area 25 on test site. He said it is already contaminated because of previous above-ground nuclear testing, so it would have few other uses. It was used to test nuclear powered rocket engines as far back as 1955.

Because of its current contamination, Goecoichea said the land would be ideal for storing the waste.

“I think that is huge,” he said. “I think there is a benefit for us in interim storage. Jackass Flats has been radioactive since the 1940s. It is where they did the above ground testing. You are not going to contaminate that.”

Goecoichea said the transportation casks of the nuclear waste could simply be bolted onto concrete and metal slabs on the ground and stored above ground. The site is also near Nellis Air Force Base, which could provide security for the site.

“You are not going to be hurting anything, they (casks) have already been heated up a couple of times,” he said.

“It just makes sense to me,” he said. “The numbers are there, anyway.

“I feel very strongly that we should look at interim storage,” he said. “You know, we’ve only been in the nuclear age for about 50 years and 50 years from now, there might be real value in those fuel rods. And again, they (fuel rods) are only 5 percent used, so a lot of that is still there.”

The interim storage site could be a big economic factor for Nye County, where the test site is located, Goecoichea said.

“The radioactivity will be contained in the cask,” he said. “They are safe enough to transport. We should not have that many incidents of actual leakage. Just bolt them down on pads in the desert and at some point, they will be worth enough and the programs we can put in place to recycle or re-evaluate that nuclear waste would be huge for Nevada.

“And consider what it would cost to build a rail corridor and those other facilities,” Goecoichea said. “It would mean billions of dollars to this state.”

The site Goecoichea mentioned is also close to Area 5, where some nuclear waste is being store now, he said. The Nevada Independent also carried an opinion piece recently that mentioned nuclear waste storage at Area 5.

Goecoichea said he has spoken to members of Nevada’s congressional delegation about his idea.

“I’ve told everybody on the list but I am just a rural senator,” he said.

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