LAS VEGAS (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured the site of a shuttered nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain on Monday, his first visit to a U.S. Energy Department site since taking over the department.
Perry's visit occurred less than two weeks after President Donald Trump proposed $120 million to restart a licensing process for the site in the desert outside Las Vegas — much to the chagrin of Nevada politicians who've spent more than a decade making sure it remains in moth balls.
Perry said he met Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a fellow Republican, at the Nevada Supreme Court building following his tour of the site. He said he and Sandoval, who are longtime friends dating to Perry's time as governor of Texas, had a "frank and productive conversation" in which Sandoval reiterated his opposition to the project.
"Today's meeting with Gov. Sandoval was the first step in a process that will involve talking with many federal, state, local and commercial stakeholders," Perry said in a statement.
Sandoval followed with a statement agreeing it was a "frank conversation on an array of issues," but added, "this meeting was not the beginning of a negotiation with regard to Yucca Mountain."
"The storage of high-level waste at Yucca Mountain is not something I am willing to consider," the governor said.
The visit came as a surprise to some Nevada Congress members, who are unified in opposition to reviving proposals to store high-level radioactive waste at Yucca.
"I am troubled that the new energy secretary is visiting the site without informing members of the Nevada congressional delegation," said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., said he was informed of Perry's plans over the weekend and has requested a meeting with him to discuss his concerns. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he spoke with Perry ahead of time and "reiterated Nevada's staunch opposition to turning Yucca into a nuclear waste dump."
Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen, who wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to settle the licensing question once and for all, said he was unaware until Monday that Perry would visit but looks forward to "sitting down and talking with him as the host county."
"It is important to note that nine of 17 Nevada counties have asked for the science to be heard and that has been Nye County's position for years," he told The Associated Press. "If science proves it's not safe, no one wants it. But if it is safe, who would say no to a multi-billion dollar multi-generational public works project?"