We live in the Battle Born state, and there’s one battle that never ends — the struggle over whether to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dump.
This contentious debate was reignited earlier this month when the Reno/Sparks Chamber of Commerce brought Illinois Congressman John Shimkus to town to argue dumping nearly 80,000 tons of highly toxic nuclear waste on the Silver State is a good idea. Shimkus, a Republican, apparently thinks Nevada is still a wasteland where no one lives and besides, Nevada is a long way from Illinois. Can you say “not in my backyard?”
As the Las Vegas Sun noted last week, “Shimkus is the dark force behind the bill that would jump-start the process to turn Yucca Mountain into the nation’s dump site for high-level nuclear waste.” The Sun went onto predict “the release of radioactive material ... would cause a disaster in Las Vegas,” the economic engine that drives our state. And that’s a fact, no matter what Shimkus and his allies say.
Is the nuclear waste really that toxic? you might ask. Yes, because according to the Sun, “the stuff is so nasty that ten years after being removed from a reactor it would take less than 70 seconds to emit a fatal dose of radiation to an unshielded person standing nearby.” This is the snake oil Rep. Shimkus was selling to the Reno/Sparks Chamber.
The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, currently a hole in the mountain without congressional funding — thanks to former Senate majority and minority leader Harry Reid (D-Las Vegas) — wouldn’t only require the trucking of high-level nuclear waste through downtown Las Vegas but also require networks of 7,000 miles of highways and 22,000 miles of railways crossing 44 states. Almost all of the nuclear waste is now located at temporary storage sites much closer to other potential dump sites, like Texas and New Mexico.
But in 1987 Congress, in its infinite (?) wisdom, passed the infamous “Screw Nevada Bill” eliminating all other potential dump sites from consideration. That happened because 30 years ago Nevada had a weak congressional delegation led by the incomparable Sen. Chic Hecht, a clueless Las Vegas haberdasher who referred to the Yucca Mountain site as a “nuclear waste suppository.” Nuff said?
Earlier this month I had the good fortune to attend a lively and informative Yucca Mountain discussion sponsored by Sierra Nevada Forums featuring state Nuclear Projects Agency Director Robert Halstead and Deputy Atty. Gen. Marta Adams, who spearhead our fight against the toxic project. “Yucca Mountain isn’t the answer” to nuclear waste storage, Halstead declared, adding it could cost as much as $1.66 billion to re-start the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. Adams said the state has filed more than 200 “contentions,” or challenges, to the licensing process with more to come.
My erudite friend Ty Cobb, whom I greatly respect, is a moderate advocate for the proposed nuclear waste dump. He claims a five-year-old survey shows most Nevadans favor the Yucca Mountain project. “Who financed that survey?” I asked. “A group of citizens,” Cobb replied. I wonder if those citizens had any connection to the powerful nuclear energy industry, which has spent millions of dollars in a futile effort to keep the Yucca Mountain project alive in a strategy that might be compared to dragging hundred-dollar bills through trailer parks.
The Feds and the nuke industry always promise to shower us with “free” money if we allow them to dump nuclear waste on us. Do you believe them? Me neither.
Happy Nevada Day!
Guy W. Farmer is a longtime opponent of the Yucca Mountain project.