Nevada GOP Senate candidates clash over Yucca Mountain

Nevada GOP Senate candidate Jeff Gunter hit primary rival Sam Brown on Tuesday over his previous comments showing openness to funding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility.

Brown’s comments have already sparked harsh criticism from Silver State Democrats, including Sen. Jacky Rosen (D). Nevada lawmakers from both parties have strongly resisted a federal plan to turn the isolated southwest Nevada mountain — about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas — into a nuclear waste storage facility since the idea was first proposed in the 1980s.

Brown, the GOP front-runner to challenge Rosen, said in recently unearthed comments from his 2022 Senate race that the state risked losing out on an opportunity if it blocked the plans.

“If we don’t act soon, other states … are assessing whether or not they can essentially steal that opportunity from us,” he said in a recording, first obtained by The Los Angeles Times.

Gunter, the former ambassador to Iceland, attacked “Scam Brown” over the comments in a social media blitz and new campaign ad on Tuesday, with just weeks to go before the June 11 primary.

“Scam Brown is scheming to make Nevada a dumping ground for toxic nuclear waste, just miles away from schools,” Gunter said. “President Trump & I oppose the swamp’s Yucca plan. Mitch McConnell and Scam support it.”

“Scam Brown doubles down on dumping hazardous nuclear waste in Nevada,” Gunter said in a second post. “Toxic policy. Toxic message. Toxic campaign.”

Brown said in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday that he was not actively calling for the reopening of Yucca Mountain, but that future proposals should be considered.

“Contrary to the political lies being spread by democrats like Jacky Rosen and Jeff Gunter, I have not committed to supporting the opening of Yucca Mountain,” Brown said. “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.”

“Leadership means considering all economic opportunities that could better support the lives of Nevadans,” he added.

The intra-party attack comes as the primary heats up. Support for Yucca Mountain development is an unpopular policy in much of the state, and even openness to future development could threaten Brown’s campaign.

The ad also draws close ties between Gunter and former President Trump. A close Trump ally during his first term as a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the former president rewarded Gunter with the ambassadorship to Iceland in 2018.

Former President Trump supported Yucca Mountain funding early in his presidency, but he backed off the promise in 2020 under pressure from Republicans in the state. Trump has not discussed Yucca Mountain policy since the 2020 race, though the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 plan does support construction.

Gunter’s comments claim that Trump does not support funding the project. The Hill has reached out to Trump’s campaign for comment.

Rosen landed similar attacks on Brown earlier this month, attempting to drive a wedge in what is expected to be one of 2024’s closest Senate races. The Cook Political Report lists her seat as a toss-up.

“For decades, Nevadans across party lines have been clear that we will not allow our state to become the dumping ground for the rest of the nation’s nuclear waste,” Rosen said in a statement. “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.”

Gunter’s attacks come the same day Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced a bill to remove Yucca Mountain’s federal designation as the country’s intended nuclear waste storage facility. The designation was first made in the 1980s and reaffirmed in 2002 but faced constant pushback from Nevada lawmakers of both parties, led by the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

A The Hill/Nexstar poll of the Nevada Senate race released early this month found Rosen with a 12-point lead over Gunter in a hypothetical matchup, taking 47 percent of the vote to his 33 percent. She also led Brown by a sizable 8-point margin in the same poll.

The senator also leads fundraising by a large margin, raising $23.6 million over the course of the campaign to Brown’s $5.3 million and Gunter’s $3.0 million.

This story was updated at 8:04 p.m.

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