My choice for Gaffe of Month award goes to ...

I was thinking of starting a Gaffe of the Month Club for Nevada politicians, but now I don't know.

They come too fast for me to keep up. And how would I choose?

Is Oscar Goodman telling fourth-graders he would take gin to a deserted island more gaffe-worthy than Jim Gibbons "borrowing" somebody else's speech?

Are either of those apparent brain lapses, amusing as they may be, as serious as Sen. Sandra Tiffany proposing a bill that would make it easier for her to do business with the state?

Memo to senator: We might not have noticed you got a $10,000 no-bid contract to advertise state surplus property if you hadn't introduced Senate Bill 55, which would make it easier for someone without a dealer's license to sell cars.

But then along came a couple of scientists working for the U.S. Geological Survey who managed to wipe all those Nevada gaffes off the map.

Talk about a big one.

Perhaps you've heard of Yucca Mountain, where there's an $8 billion hole in the ground waiting for the Department of Energy to fill it with the nation's nuclear crap.

(Sorry, but the energy industry guy who last week took exception to the Appeal's Guy Farmer calling it a "dump" pretty much sums up my definition of bureaucratic obfuscation. He wants to call to a "nuclear repository." Fine. Call it an amusement park, if you want. It's still where they want to bury 77,000 tons of radioactive waste.)

Anyway, back to the outrage at hand.

A couple of scientists were supposed to be studying how fast it takes for water to seep through Yucca Mountain. This is important because water could get to the special alloy casks holding the radioactive waste, corrode them and eventually allow the radioactive waste to get into the groundwater. Such an occurrence would be bad for humans, animals and other life forms on planet Earth.

The DOE asked the Geological Survey to do the study because it didn't like the results of the first one, conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Alamos study found isotopes from World War II-era nuclear bombing, indicating water had moved through the mountain in just a few decades.

So the boys at the Geological Survey got busy and came up with a study that said no, of course not, that water doesn't move through Yucca Mountain nearly as fast as the numskulls at Los Alamos claim. It's more like 10,000 years - plenty of time for those folks in Nevada to forget what's buried in the desert. Harry Reid will probably be out of office by then, too.

Based on this "sound science," the Energy secretary - good ol' what's-his-name - told President Bush that Yucca Mountain was a go. Bush gave it the big thumb's up (although we in Nevada thought we saw a different finger), and the nation's nuclear suppository lurches ahead.

Hold on just a minute there, sailor.

This week the DOE, to its credit, announced that some rather funky e-mails had been discovered. The heroes in this story ought to be the Energy Department lawyers who have been digging through a Yucca Mountain of government e-mails and who reported their findings.

In the e-mails, some scientist apparently wrote he had no idea where and under what circumstances some geological samples had been dug up. But that's OK. He'd just make up the details. Good enough for government work.

Memo to scientists: If you're going to make stuff up, don't write about it in e-mails to your buddies. E-mail is kind of like radioactive waste. It stays around a lot longer than you'd imagine, eventually slips into the information stream and could someday kill you, a little at a time.

Someday we'll get to read the e-mails ourselves. They're probably full of geological techno-jargon, so I doubt very much if they read like this:

Scientist 1: Dude, no docs re Yuc. Ideas? CU 2nite at Hooters ;)

Scientist 2: Happy hr 5 pm. Don't B late. Screw Yucca. Fictionalize. Who'll know? LOL

So just how big is this gaffe?

Well, you and I are paying for it right now. Government bureaucrats are rushing to spend our tax dollars to investigate just what went wrong and how many people they're going to have to fire to cover their own butts.

Can the Yucca Mountain waste suppository project be saved? You betcha. The federal government doesn't often pour $8 billion into a rathole without following up with several billion more. So what if the project is 14 years behind schedule? So what if there's still $100 billion to be spent?

The main consequence of the discovery of the smoking e-mails is that the whole thing will be delayed for a few more years. The Geological Survey will be looking to fill a couple of open spots on the scientific research staff.

And the DOE is probably trying to figure out something better for those lawyers to do than sift through old e-mails.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.


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