The federal government lost a battle with the Sagebrush Rebellion forces of Northeastern Nevada the other day when the U.S. Forest Service caved-in and surrendered to the so-called Elko County Shovel Brigade, which had been in a running dispute over an isolated creek and the allegedly endangered bull trout. That's bad news for the Feds and good news for Nevada in its fight against the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.
What the Elko County case proves is that a relatively small but determined band of citizens (and voters, I might add) can defeat an arrogant federal bureaucracy. And the way a group of Nevada hunters and ranchers fought the Forest Service to a standstill over their traditional access to remote South Canyon Road in northern Elko County should inspire the large majority of Nevadans who oppose the troubled Yucca Mountain project.
In more bad news for the Feds, a Utah senator and the Mormon Church have joined the fight against nuclear waste storage in western deserts. Although his Sept. 20 announcement didn't attract much media attention in Nevada, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) withdrew his support from Yucca Mountain, telling the press that he had changed his mind due to new scientific evidence against the proposed site. "It is now clear that we are not going to have a single repository for nuclear waste," Bennett declared. "Yucca Mountain has been challenged on scientific grounds ... (and) in the courts on legal grounds. ... We need to start thinking about new strategies and new places to deal with this (waste).
"However much the idea of a single repository may have made sense decades ago," he continued, "it's now clear that it does not make sense (today)."
Well said, senator, and thanks for your support. It's also becoming virtually certain that Yucca Mountain will never happen as long as Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retains his key leadership position in the Senate. Reid has long been an effective foe of the highly radioactive project, and he's recruiting more influential allies as time goes on.
Bennett's announcement came in the wake of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval of a waste dump on tribal land in remote Skull Valley, Utah. Moreover, his decision has put increasing political pressure on Utah's senior senator, Republican Orrin Hatch, a devout Mormon. I mention his religion because the powerful (especially in Utah) Mormon Church recently joined the chorus of opposition to the storage of nuclear waste on tribal lands in Utah.
"We regret the decision ... to authorize the issuance of a license that would allow storage of radioactive waste in Skull Valley," the LDS Church said in a statement issued last month. "Storage of nuclear waste in Utah is a matter of significant public interest that requires thorough scrutiny."
Utah had long been considered a Nevada ally on Yucca Mountain until senators Bennett and Hatch switched positions a couple of years ago and voted in favor of President Bush's surprise decision to bury 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste in the Nevada desert just 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the nation's fastest-growing city. I say "surprise" because when he ran for president, Bush promised to base his decision on "sound science," and it's quite apparent that this flawed project encompasses just about everything but sound science.
Cynical politicians and nuclear energy industry lobbyists perpetrated an outrage on the Silver State in 1987 when Congress passed the so-called "Screw Nevada" Bill, which designated Yucca Mountain as the only nuclear waste burial site to be studied on the "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) theory that "Nevada is a desert and no one lives there." But times have changed since then and Nevada is a now an important swing state in national elections, which is why potential 2008 presidential candidates and other influential politicians are re-thinking Yucca Mountain, as well they should.
Although the Energy Department and a few Nevada turncoats, headed by former Gov. Bob List, a highly paid lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute, are still trying to convince us that radioactive waste is good for us, our children and grandchildren, few Nevadans are buying what they're selling. Opposition is vocal and solidly bipartisan, led by Gov. Kenny Guinn and our entire five-person congressional delegation.
So it was no surprise when the U.S. House of Representatives voted 416-13 last May to approve "temporary" nuclear waste storage at "interim" facilities scattered around the country.
As we already know, however, nothing is ever temporary when it involves the federal government and, as Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said when the House measure passed, "Interim, in geologic time, could mean several lifetimes." Obviously, these lawmakers recognize that the much-delayed Yucca Mountain project is in serious jeopardy. With luck, it will never happen.
I thought Bob Loux, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency, proposed a valid alternative to the nuclear waste dump during a speech to the Northern Nevada Development Authority earlier this year by suggesting that the giant hole in the ground at Yucca Mountain would make an excellent mega-wine cellar. Of course Gov. Guinn's good friend Larry Ruvo would have exclusive distribution rights for the wine.
In the same speech, Loux commented on the Feds' definition of sound science by quoting from embarrassing e-mails between Energy Department officials and Yucca Mountain contractors. "I don't have a clue when these programs were installed," one contractor admitted, "so I've made up the dates and names. If they need more proof, I'll be happy to make up more stuff." So much for sound science. I rest my case. Happy Nevada Day!
- Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.