LAS VEGAS (AP) - Former Nevada Gov. Robert List has been hired to promote the position that the nation's high-level nuclear waste is inevitably coming to Yucca Mountain.
The former Republican governor is the highest-profile Nevadan to align with the nuclear power industry.
His decision to work for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying arm, surprised and disappointed officials who say the proposed repository would pose safety and health threats to Nevada residents.
List told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that he's crafting a list of potential benefits the state might obtain and will disclose specifics later.
Democrats were more vocal in their criticism than Republicans, but most agreed the nuclear industry would benefit from the support of the one-term governor and two-term attorney general.
''I think it sends the wrong signal at a very pivotal time in the process,'' said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. ''This is a mixed signal of monumental proportions. This is not the time to show weakness.''
Nevada's four-member congressional delegation and most state lawmakers, including Gov. Kenny Guinn, oppose the federal Energy Department's Yucca Mountain proposal.
It would entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive commercial, industrial and military nuclear waste at the site on the western edge of the Nevada Test Site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Guinn said List, a lifelong friend, mentioned his new job weeks ago.
''I told him ... what he's doing doesn't change my position one iota,'' Guinn said. ''I have no intention of talking benefits to anybody.''
Retiring state Sen. Bill O'Donnell, R-Las Vegas, one of the few outspoken elected advocates of negotiating for benefits in return for accepting the nuclear repository, said he supports List.
''We need a dialogue,'' O'Donnell said. ''We can no longer afford to keep our head in the sand and think this thing is not going to come. We need to talk to the federal government to mitigate any safety concerns.''
List said it appears likely Nevada would be chosen to store the nation's nuclear waste, that the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain will be found scientifically safe and that transportation concerns will be adequately addressed.
List, governor from 1979 to 1983, said he understands why elected officials from both parties have opposed negotiating for benefits. He said he'd do the same if he were still governor and pointed to a former attorney general's opinion saying that any negotiations imply consent to the repository.
List called himself a realist. He said that if the site is recommended as suitable and Congress overrides state opposition ''then it becomes a matter of making the most of it.''
Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat who defeated List in the gubernatorial race in 1982, said List adds stature and credibility to proponents of the nuclear repository.
However, Bryan questioned the inevitability of the project, saying the industry wouldn't hire List and spend money on lawsuits if it thought the project was guaranteed.
Judy Treichel, chairwoman of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force watchdog group, called hiring List a sign of desperation by project supporters.
Former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller said he was shocked and disappointed by List's position.
''I totally disagree it's in our best interest to derive benefits in exchange for the safety of our citizens,'' Miller said.
Guinn said he agrees with polls showing the public thinks storing nuclear waste in Nevada is unsafe. He said he'll send letters soon asking for contributions to help fight the nuclear repository through litigation and public relations.
List, now a Las Vegas attorney representing gaming and business clients, declined to reveal the terms of his long-term contract with the institute.