Last August, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid told colleagues at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing that "Everyone knows the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is a dying beast," challenging them to "take the focus away from this dead project." Just last month Sen. Reid still was performing his last rites ritual on Yucca, declaring at a press conference, "I think (Yucca Mountain) is on its death bed."
To paraphrase the late, great Mark Twain, Sen. Reid's reports of Yucca's death appear to be greatly exaggerated.
In fact, after more than two decades and millions of dollars worth of efforts to kill Yucca Mountain, the project has now entered its final approval phase, with the Department of Energy recently submitting its licensing application. Approval of the license is the last step before construction begins.
Sen. Reid is starting to resemble a blind man standing in the middle of the tracks yelling "Stop" at an oncoming bullet train. But he's not wearing a cape, tights and a shirt with a big red "S" on the front.
Also apparently living in state of denial, the Clark County Commission recently rubber-stamped yet another meaningless, toothless anti-Yucca Mountain "resolution." Commission Chairman Rory Reid noted that the commission has already issued seven such resolutions during the years, leading columnist John L. Smith to write, with a healthy dose of much deserved sarcasm, "Imagine. Seven tersely worded statements and still the DOE keeps coming. What next, stern rebukes? Hard stares? The silent treatment?"
Meanwhile, the refusal of Nevada's politicians to take a seat at the table and discuss potential benefits and safety controls, while simultaneously maintaining opposition to the facility, means that if Yucca is eventually built, as still appears likely, Nevadans will get doodley-squat in the bargain. Plus, all the decisions regarding the site, including safety, will be made by unaffected out-of-state interests rather than Nevadans.
And contrary to what appears to have been a very politically-motivated 1988 attorney general's opinion (which no one seems to be able to put their fingers on any longer), other legal experts maintain that the mere act of Nevada shifting to a more neutral position of "constructive engagement" over potential Yucca Mountain benefits and safety controls does not equate to "implied consent" to accept the repository.
As Appeal reporter Geoff Dornan noted yesterday, Nevada taxpayers have now spent some $26 million in state funds (how many school books would that have bought?) to do nothing more than slow down this speeding train still coming our way. On the other hand, a source closely involved in the Yucca legal battle 20 years ago told me this week that had Nevada opted to negotiate for financial benefits way back then, an energy official in the Reagan administration had indicated to him that Nevadans could have received anywhere from $100 million to $300 million PER YEAR from the federal government.
So instead of this quixotic head-in-the-sand fight costing Nevada taxpayers $26 million over 20 years, we might have pocketed some $2-4 BILLION instead. How many roads and schools could we have built for $4 billion?
Anti-Yucca politicians and self-serving, taxpayer-funded anti-Yucca lobbyists have declared June "Yucca Mountain Awareness Month." Folks, we're all fully "aware" of Yucca already. The problem is our politicians don't seem to "appreciate" the reality of our situation. So it's time to fully open up the discussion on this important issue with both sides of the story being told without censorship or fear of reprisal.
With the licensing process now underway, it's time for Nevada's elected officials to (a) appreciate that no one wants a nuclear waste repository in their back yard, but (b) appreciate the fact that there's a very good chance we're going to get it anyway, so (c) appreciate the reality that we ought to begin negotiating for benefits and safety controls so that Nevadans are sufficiently compensated for doing the nation this "favor."
With that in mind, I hereby declare the month of June "Yucca Mountain Appreciation Month."
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org