January 27, 2021

Cortez Masto Questions Granholm About Plutonium, Clean Energy, Secures Administration’s Commitment to Oppose Yucca Mountain

Cortez Masto ENR Hearing Granholm

Washington, D.C. – In an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Energy, about Yucca Mountain, plutonium storage, and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) plan to combat the climate crisis.                              

Senator Cortez Masto called the effort to site a spent nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain “a failed policy. . . . We still have challenges with really addressing the high-level nuclear waste storage that we have in this country. Yucca Mountain is not the answer. And the couple of questions I have for you is, first, what is this administration’s position on Yucca Mountain?”

In response, Governor Granholm assured Senator Cortez Masto that the Biden Administration opposes the use of Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository. Governor Granholm also committed to working with Congress to develop a safe, workable alternative to Yucca Mountain.

The Senator also brought up President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which “made recommendations around consent-based siting process. Senator Rosen and I . . . will re-introduce this legislation to include Nevada in that consent-based siting. Is that something that you and the administration would support?”

“Absolutely,” Governor Granholm replied, adding that she would also commit to engaging with states, Tribes, and key stakeholders in developing a consent-based siting process.

Senator Cortez Masto then asked Governor Granholm about the weapons-grade plutonium that was secretly shipped to Nevada in 2018. The Senator was successful in reaching an agreement with the Department of Energy to have the agency begin removing that plutonium in 2021. In referencing this history, the Senator asked, “what is the current status of DOE’s and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plan for removing the plutonium, if you know?”

Governor Granholm replied, “The plan is to follow the agreement that you negotiated.”

Senator Cortez Masto raised the issue of federal-state coordination for the Nevada National Security Site. “In 2014,” she pointed out, “the Obama administration and state of Nevada agreed to establish a senior-level DOE-Nevada working group to address mutual concerns about operations at the Nevada National Security Site. Unfortunately, the Trump administration did not follow through on that agreement. Will you commit to reestablish the DOE-Nevada working group with regular meetings of senior-level personnel?” Governor Granholm said that she would.

Finally, the Senator addressed the issues of clean energy, the climate crisis, and electric vehicles. She noted, “I support really a diverse energy portfolio for all states. Every state is going to be unique. In Nevada we have natural gas, we have geothermal, we have wind, we have solar. But the outcome for all of us should be reducing that carbon footprint. And I do believe an innovation economy is coming—if it’s not already here—and the technology is going to give us that opportunity to really engage in a clean energy portfolio. For so many of us, it’s going to create jobs, it’s going to move us in that direction. And there’s opportunities to bring everybody along with us.

“Let me talk a little bit about electric vehicles, because this is something that I so agree with you. I have a suite of electric vehicle legislation. . . .  If you come to Nevada—and I’ve offered to you before—you will see we already have the infrastructure for electric vehicles. I’m very proud of that. But let me ask you—one of the pieces of legislation that I have that I’m going to be introducing is to establish a working group that’s co-led by DOE to improve that coordination among local, state, and federal stakeholders to establish a clear strategy and national electric vehicle framework that includes not just cars but buses as well. Is that something that you could work with us on or would be willing to engage?”

Governor Granholm agreed to do so.

A full video of the hearing can be found here.


Senator Cortez Masto has been a leader on the issues of energy and climate. She has introduced the End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act to prohibit oil and gas leasing on public lands that have low or no potential for development. She has a strong history of opposing nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain and has introduced legislation to ensure the Secretary of Energy obtains written consent from state, local, and tribal leaders before allowing construction of a nuclear waste repository. As part of her Innovation State Initiative, she has introduced a suite of legislation to promote electric vehicles and improve clean energy infrastructure, as well as to offer grants for projects that increase energy efficiency at schools. The recently-enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 included provisions that Senator Cortez Masto has championed to extend renewable investment tax credits for Nevada’s solar energy industry and promote geothermal energy.