Kamala Harris, Standing, Aiken Town Hall

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, takes an audience question during her Aiken County town hall Saturday evening. Harris sat down for an interview with the Aiken Standard afterward.

Local consent and decision-making is critical for successful nuclear waste storage and related policy, according to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat.

"Communities have to be given the power to consent to what they want, meaning communities should have the authority to make the decisions about what happens to their communities," Harris said, speaking to the Aiken Standard after her Aiken County town hall Saturday night. "And what happens in those communities includes whether or not there's going to be a nuclear site there."

Harris' comments line up with the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which she co-sponsored in April.

The bill – introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat who objects to Yucca Mountain and has blasted the U.S. Department of Energy for moving weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to her state – requires the DOE to secure approval from a state's governor, local-level governments and nearby tribes before a nuclear waste repository could be constructed.

"It's an issue that is present here, it's an issue that is present in Nevada, and it's a real issue for those communities," Harris said of waste storage, making reference to the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve south of Aiken.

Roughly 35 million gallons of nuclear waste is currently stored at the Savannah River Site in aging, underground tanks and is awaiting processing and long-term disposal. Metric tons of plutonium are kept at the site in a retrofitted reactor facility known as K-Area.

SRS is under the purview of the Energy Department's remediation wing, the Office of Environmental Management.

"I know what's happening here is that there are businesses that are, until this is settled, trying to decide whether they're going to actually invest in this community and whether they can thrive or have a future here," Harris continued. "It's a very big issue."

The California senator, a former attorney general, staunchly opposes Yucca Mountain. Asked Saturday if she was against the fizzled Nevada repository, Harris said, "Yeah, oh yes. Absolutely."

Four other senators running for president – Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, all under the Democratic banner – have also co-sponsored the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, also backed the legislation. Gillbrand ended her 2020 presidential bid earlier this year.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin