Tyrus Cobb: Fiscal crisis: What about that $100B project?

Nevada is wrestling with one of the most severe fiscal crises in its history. The Governor and the Legislature just concluded intense negotiations to determine what combination of education and political reforms will be included in a compromised budget.

The Democratic leadership in the Legislature has proposed an ambitious combination of new taxes designed to permit government agencies and education to operate at levels they feel are necessary. The Governor and the Republican minorities in both houses of the Legislature have backed off their "no new taxes" pledge and seem to be agreeable to extending taxes set to expire on July 1 in exchange for substantial reforms.

In the midst of this crisis, I find it inexplicable that neither the Executive nor Legislative branches seem willing to even discuss the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. This in spite of the fact that even preparing the repository provided Nevada with one of its most significant federal infusions of funds. Closing the site, in fact, has resulted in 3,000 high-paying technical jobs being eliminated.

Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller have both described Yucca as "that damned $100 billion project." Now just stop and think about that for a minute. Damned $100 billion project?

Why is it that in the midst of this economic downturn, the repository, and more ambitious plans to convert the project to a Nevada Energy Park, cannot even be discussed? In the previous legislative session, a bill was introduced that took cognizance of the significant changes in President Obama's approach to nuclear waste disposition. No longer is the government talking about long-term storage, up to 300,000 years, but now believes that the spent fuel can be safely stored for just 100 years before a scientific solution is found. I agree.

However, the bill that suggested storing the waste at Yucca for an interim period in exchange for significant benefits went nowhere.

The Democratic leadership refused to even let it receive a hearing in committee. Neither former Gov. Gibbons, nor Sandoval now, has given Republican legislators any encouragement to raise the issue. The proposed energy park, which includes creating a trust fund similar to that enjoyed by Alaskans for its oil, is not even being evaluated for its potential significant fiscal benefits. The proponents, all of whom have no financial interests in the project themselves, believe that every legal Nevadan could be granted a yearly allotment of over $1,000 and that more than 10,000 of the best jobs would be created. And we can't even discuss it?

In the meantime the agency created for handling these projects, the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency, has spent more than $200 million to oppose the Repository. Nevada law requires that Agency to provide us with "all information related to radioactive waste," but it has been turned into nothing more than an anti-Yucca propaganda entity.

Informal polls show 70 percent of Nevadans to be in favor of the state negotiating with the federal government to ascertain our safety concerns and determine what benefits might be available. Still, our elected representatives remain reluctant to even allow this topic to be discussed. Of course, who would want to seriously evaluate a project with a $100 billion impact in these difficult economic times?

It is time for these officials to not only permit an open discussion on this controversial yet potentially lucrative concept, but to actively promote a dialogue on the pros and cons of the repository/ energy park.

I believe they fear such an open discussion because it would illuminate the fallacy of their positions.

And they will continue to prevail until you tell them differently.

• Tyrus W. Cobb is former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.


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