Rory Reid defends famous father’s Yucca Mountain legacy

By: - May 3, 2024 5:00 am

“The truth is that the vast majority of those that have been elected to serve the people of Nevada, have opposed this project. Many of them are in Mr. Brown’s own party,” former Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid said Thursday. (Photo: Dana Gentry/Nevada Current)

Former Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid says Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Sam Brown needs a history lesson. “I’m happy to provide it here and now.”

Reid emerged from his absence from public life Thursday to campaign for Sen. Jacky Rosen and speak up for keeping nuclear waste out of Southern Nevada, a cause his father, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, embraced from the 1980s until his retirement in 2017. Reid died in 2021 at the age of 82.

“I’m here as a son,” Rory Reid said. “I’m here to defend my father’s legacy. As you know my father dedicated much of his political career to fighting against Yucca Mountain.” 

Reid added that some people credit his father with stopping what seemed the inevitable selection of Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste burial site. 

“I would agree with that,” he said. “And he was very proud of what he did. I heard him talk about how a small state like Nevada, when powerful people throughout the country were trying to solve their problems on our backs, we were able to come together as a community and stop it.” 

Reid said it was “deeply, deeply troubling for me to hear that someone is trying to drag that legacy that my father proudly built through the mud for their own political game,” referencing audio that surfaced this week of Brown.

Joining Reid against the backdrop of Interstate-15 and the Las Vegas Strip, Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said “all the nuclear waste would be transported right through here,” should Yucca Mountain become the nation’s nuclear waste burial ground. “Any trucks transporting nuclear waste will be going down this highway right past the heart of our community. The trains would go right behind where we’re gathered today along this rail line.” 

While campaigning for U.S. Senate in 2022, Brown, now the Republican frontrunner for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2024, told a campaign gathering that he supported bringing nuclear waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Los Angeles Times Tuesday published audio of previously unreported remarks Brown made during a 2022 campaign event in Henderson, where Brown said that not allowing nuclear waste in Nevada represented “an incredible loss of revenue for our state.”

Yucca Mountain was officially designated as the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground during the administration of George W. Bush, in 2002. But the project was the subject of legal and regulatory proceedings for the next several years, until the administration of Barack Obama ordered the Department of Energy to discontinue its licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and eliminated federal funding for the project.

While president, Donald Trump attempted to restart funding for Yucca, but was thwarted by Congress. Trump reversed positions during the 2022 campaign cycle in an effort to help Adam Laxalt, the Republican who defeated Brown in the 2022 Senate primary but lost to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in the general election. The Biden administration has never included funding for the Yucca Mountain project.

“I am not strictly committed to opening Yucca Mountain at this time. However, I will consider all thoroughly vetted future proposals, with the safety of Nevadans being my top priority, while ensuring the proposals are substantially economically beneficial,” Brown said in a statement Thursday to the Current.  

“Sam’s first priority will always be the safety and security of Nevadans, our water, and our environment. If a proposal isn’t explicitly proven to be demonstrably safe, he will not support it,” Kristy Wilkinson, Brown’s communications director, said in a statement. “Senator Rosen is continuing the Harry Reid machine’s dirty political tactic of fear-mongering for votes — just in time for her struggling reelection bid. As a U.S. senator, Sam will consider and vet every safe opportunity that brings jobs and economic investment to our state so that we can help working Nevada families earn a good living again and undo the economic destruction that Joe Biden and Jacky Rosen have brought to Nevada.”

Brown’s 2022 remarks come on the heels of a U.S. House Energy and Commerce hearing earlier this month in which chair Cathy McMorris Rogers and other Republicans called for  restarting the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain project.

Days later, during a Senate Energy Committee hearing, Cortez Masto got reassurances from Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm that there is no funding in President Joe Biden’s budget for restarting the relicensing process, and no intention to ever include any.

Rosen issued a statement blasting Brown for his remarks obtained by the Times.

“I’ve been fighting against Washington politicians trying to force nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain since Sam Brown was still living in Texas, and his extreme support for this dangerous and unpopular project underscores how little he understands the needs of our state,” she said. 

Rosen was first elected to the U.S. House in 2016. Brown moved to Nevada in 2018.

In the recording obtained by the Times, asked his opinion about the Yucca Mountain project, Brown said “one of the things I’m afraid of is a lack of understanding and the fear mongering that Harry Reid and others have spread,” and “that we could miss an incredible opportunity for revenue for our state in the future.”

Reid said his father was not perpetuating fear, but rather “trying to do what was best for the people in Nevada.” He noted that opposition to burying high-level nuclear waste in Nevada transcends party lines.   

“The truth is that the vast majority of those that have been elected to serve the people of Nevada, have opposed this project. Many of them are in Mr. Brown’s own party,” Reid said, naming U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, former Gov. Brian Sandoval, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, and Laxalt. “This issue isn’t Republicans versus Democrats. It’s Sam Brown versus Nevada.” 

Note: This reporter worked as Sen. Harry Reid’s Nevada press secretary in the late 1980s. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.