Lawmakers object to slashing Nuclear Projects budget |

Lawmakers object to slashing Nuclear Projects budget

Members of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday questioned the governor’s decision to slash the Nuclear Projects office budget from seven to just two employees just as the formal process of licensing Yucca Mountain begins.

Those cuts were designed to save more than $1.2 million over the biennium and based on the idea that most of the agency’s actual work is done by contractors so the staff isn’t necessary.

“We have fought since 1983 then, all of the sudden, in the most crucial part of it, we now have the opportunity to stop it, and, in somebody’s wisdom, we say, ‘Hey, we don’t need these people, let’s get rid of them,'” said Finance Chairman Bernice Mathews, D-Sparks.

“If the dump is approved, we’ll become the garbage dump of America,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, whose district includes Yucca Mountain. “Anything nobody wants in America, they’ll ship to Nevada.”

Director of Administration Andrew Clinger and Nuclear Projects director Bruce Breslow managed to stave off some of the criticism by telling the committee the budget will be revised once auditors complete their review of the needs and staffing of the office.

Breslow said the governor’s office has assured him once the audit is done, they’ll be flexible in determining what changes to make in the initial budget.

But that drew a skeptical response from Mathews.

“You recommend the cuts before you do the audit? That sounds like the cart before the horse,” she said.

“Somehow the governor’s office has a political tin ear on this issue,” said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who has been in the Legislature since 1983. “It’s important, critically and politically. It’s unbelievable. We have to stake everything on this. We have a promise and he has a promise to the people of Nevada to keep, not to himself about his political career.”

He said even suggesting that major cut in the office charged with fighting Yucca Mountain sends a dangerous message to lobbyists for the nuclear power industry.

“You sent a signal to them big time that Nevada is quitting,” he said.

Breslow, who was appointed to the director’s post just four weeks ago, said he agrees with Coffin the state must fight and win the battle to block Yucca Mountain. And he promised to advise them of any changes in his proposed budget as soon as possible.

At the same time, Republican Assemblyman Ty Cobb of Reno issued a call for Nevada to begin negotiating with the federal government over the future of Yucca Mountain.

“It’s time to put away the rhetoric and start dealing with facts,” he said in a prepared statement.

He said safety comes first but that the state needs to “refocus Yucca away from its stated purpose of serving as a long term repository.”

Cobb said Yucca Mountain should be an interim storage site with the government and nuclear industry working on ways to better reprocess the waste.

In addition to getting rid of up to 90- percent of the waste, he said that would provide hundreds of high technology jobs in Nevada.

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