Yucca Mountain nuclear dump isn't 'inevitable'

Even though former Gov. Bob List and other highly paid shills for the nuclear energy industry keep telling us that the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is "inevitable," it is now clear that this fatally flawed project is in serious trouble in Washington, D.C., and here in Nevada.

In an appearance before the State Senate Finance Committee late last month, Attorney General Brian Sandoval predicted that the toxic waste dump will never open. Sandoval accurately described the Yucca Mountain site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas as "a volcano that sits on an earthquake fault above an aquifer, next to the Nevada Test Site, next to one of the nation's largest organic farms, next to the state's largest dairy, adjacent to ... (America's) fastest-growing metropolitan area (and) next to one of the busiest Air Force bases in the country."

"If you could choose a worse place to store nuclear waste, I really challenge you to do so," he added. "It's just a matter of time before this project fails." Well said, Mr. Attorney General.

As a high-profile Republican, Sandoval's strong opposition to the waste dump is in direct contrast to the position of the Nevada Republican Party, which endorsed the Yucca Mountain project last year and urged state officials to make a deal with the Feds and the nuclear industry. "No way!" responded GOP elected office-holders Sandoval, Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. John Ensign and Congressman Jim Gibbons. I admire them for holding the line against their party's sell-outs, who are willing to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren for federal dollars.

Yucca Mountain proponents have already acknowledged that the waste dump won't open by the 2010 target date and thanks to efforts by Nevada's congressional delegation, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the project's budget was cut by 35 percent, from $880 million down to $572 million, in the current fiscal year. And that's only the beginning as more and more design and safety flaws are revealed.

"The (Bush) administration is still pushing the project," said Sen. Reid, "and still wasting millions of dollars on it, but the lower budget request also indicates they realize there are significant hurdles ahead." Are there ever! And the more the better.

Former Gov. List, who opposed the Yucca Mountain project while he was in office, is still trying to convince us that we should allow the federal government to dump 77,000 tons of the nation's most deadly radioactive waste on our state. List told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that "the likelihood of this project is greater than it has ever been."

And according to the Reno News & Review, the nuclear energy industry is promoting a new coalition of money-grubbing businessmen and lobbyists dubbed "For a Better Nevada," which - in the words of the RN&R; - "seeks to exploit the dump as a cash cow for Nevada." This group's phony name reminds me of that "Nevadans for Better Law Enforcement" outfit that tried to legalize drugs in our state. We saw through that scam, however, and will do the same for the nuclear dump advocates.

Rep. Gibbons and Attorney General Sandoval, among others, have asked why the federal government isn't studying nuclear recycling technology as an alternative to Yucca Mountain. "I can't think of a more primitive way to deal with this waste ... than to dig a hole in the ground and cover it up," Sandoval told state lawmakers. A Gibbons spokesperson opined that "we should be spending (taxpayer) money on 21st century technology to deal with the problem," in view of the fact that nuclear waste recycling is currently operating in France and other countries.

Just prior to the start of this year's legislative session, the Nevada Nuclear Projects Commission delivered a report to Gov. Guinn declaring that the Yucca Mountain project is "on the verge of collapse" as it "limps along" toward its eventual demise. But a U.S. Energy Department spokesman said Yucca Mountain is moving forward despite all of the obstacles in its path including a Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement that all project documents be part of an electronic database and a federal court decision ordering the EPA to re-draft safety standards and the NRC to change its licensing rules. That looks like an uphill battle to me, and it couldn't happen to more deserving folks.

Another possible solution to this toxic problem would be to dump the radioactive waste in Skull Valley, Utah, where the Goshute Indians are campaigning for a nuclear waste repository on tribal lands about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Although that site would be uncomfortably close to Elko and Wendover, it's a better alternative than Yucca Mountain. Ironically, the state of Utah and environmental groups argue that the Skull Valley site is dangerously close to a major population center, too dependent on the movement of highly dangerous waste by rail, and too vulnerable to terrorists. Do those arguments sound familiar?

Following the "NIMBY" rule, however, the Utah congressional delegation always votes to dump the nuclear waste in Nevada. Now it's their turn to fight against a dump site in their own state. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to nuclear waste, turnabout is fair play.

So I hope the Bush administration and the Energy Department fall flat on their collective faces as they attempt to move the Yucca Mountain project forward in the face of overwhelming opposition - more than 70 percent - from the citizens of our state.

This is progress? An officer of the local builders association thinks a tacky hillbilly hotel with a flaming oil derrick would be good for historic Carson City, and he wants to cover our Sierra hillsides with tract housing. That's not my definition of "progress." How about you?

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.

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