Nothing to fear?

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Nevada's message on Yucca Mountain may get through yet.

Despite skepticism that the rest of the country will join Nevada in opposing nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, the day is coming nearer when the Department of Energy finally will announce a detailed plan for radioactive shipments.

At that point, the state may indeed find itself with ample allies who do not want to see waste casks coming through their communities.

The debate this week on Capitol Hill has been over the safety of those shipments. Supporters say there's never been a shipping accident that released radioactive material; opponents say there's never been anything like the shipments that will head for Yucca Mountain.

A hole card in Nevada's hand is the track record of the federal government's assessment of public risks, and critics point to the nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site that began in the 1950s.

"One of our cancer patients recently told me a horrifying story," a Utah doctor, Stephen Prescott, executive director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, testified this week. "As children in Southern Utah, he and his brothers would take a Geiger counter out into the pasture on their farm to find the areas that gave the loudest response.

"Why did their parents allow behavior that now appalls us? Not because of disinterest in the well-being of their children, but because they had been reassured there was no danger."

There are plenty of specific, scientific arguments for Nevada to make in opposition to waste storage at Yucca Mountain.

In the end, however, what may resonate most in the fears of residents outside the state is something they can't see, smell or touch. We're not talking about radiation; we mean the public's general distrust of the federal government.


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