Nevada, Idaho enemies on nuke waste; roomies at convention

PHILADELPHIA - There may be no stranger political bedfellows than the Nevada and Idaho delegations rooming together at the same hotel this week at the Republican National Convention.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is one of the leaders behind the drive in Congress to turn Nevada's Yucca Mountain into the nation's nuclear waste dump.

It's an issue that unites Nevadans -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- in rabid opposition.

So the prospects of sharing the week under one roof at the $300-a-night Clarion Suites a few blocks from the Liberty Bell could make for some awkward moments for the pro-Yucca Idahoans and the anti-Yucca Nevadans.

''We'll get along,'' Craig insists. ''I haven't met a Nevadan yet I didn't like or get along with.''

That includes, he said, Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, the two Nevada Democrats who rallied the Senate again this year to keep the nuclear waste bill from winning enough votes to prevail over a promised veto from President Clinton.

''I don't blame them or any Nevadans for their position,'' Craig said. ''It is a reality we have to deal with as a nation. It appears Nevada, fortunately or unfortunately, may host the structure that will allow us a safe geologic repository for high-level waste.''

Nevada delegates, for their part, say they wish no ill will toward their Republican brethren from the north.

''I think it will be a professional discussion of differences,'' said Ryan Erwin, executive director of the Nevada Republican Party.

''If I see Larry Craig, I'll probably tell him to leave us alone and 'Put it in your state buddy,''' he said.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. agrees ''there are no hard feelings.

''Whether you are in Idaho trying to get rid of what you've got or in Nevada trying to prevent Nevada from dumping on you, we understand that,'' he said.

Bob Seale, chairman of the Nevada GOP, said he may approach Craig to see if there are some issues important to Idaho ''that perhaps we can trade a little bit on.

''It is a peculiarly, singular issue that is a Nevada issue. The rest of the world does not care about it, other than they want it here, perhaps,'' Seale said.

Idaho's interest stems from its long-running attempts to block federal shipments of radioactive waste to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Idaho Attorney General Al Lance, a delegate to the convention, helped broker that latest agreement forcing the feds to take responsibility for the waste in the coming years.

''The deal I cut says get it out of my state. They don't have to take it to Nevada. I don't care where you they take it,'' Lance said. ''They can pile it in the middle of Washington D.C. as far as I'm concerned. Just get it out of my state.

Trent Clark, chairman of the Idaho GOP, said it is easier to ensure the safety of the waste if it is stored at a central location instead of at ''1,000 different locations like it is now.

''But there's a lot of sympathy for Nevada I think because our site ... has been a convenient place for folks out East to send their waste in the past,'' he said.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons and state Sen. Jon Porter, a Republican running for Congress, all said the disagreement over nuclear waste pales in comparison to the myriad issues that unite rural Western states like theirs, especially on natural resource issues.

''Being small states, neither of us can afford to alienate each other on individual issues,'' Porter said.

''We have been equally poisoned,'' Gibbons said, ''whether it is mining, or grazing or recreation on outdoor public lands. We need to work together because of the administration's threat to close down lots of Idaho and lots of Nevada.''

Besides, Craig says, the Nevadans may change their tune in the future if technological advances make it cost-effective to recycle spent nuclear fuels.

''A decade or two from now, Nevada may be one of the caretakers of one of the biggest energy supplies in the history of the world,'' he said.

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