Guy W. Farmer: Nuclear facts a dire reminder of Yucca perils

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

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A few folks are still telling us it would be good to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dump, and that if we would endorse the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, they’d shower us with “free” federal dollars. Fortunately, that’s not going to happen.

I’d like to share a few fearsome facts about highly toxic nuclear waste that I discovered during recent trips to Seattle and Southern California. An op-ed piece in the respected Seattle Times by Tom Carpenter, executive director of a nonprofit group working for a safe and effective cleanup of the Hanford (Wash.) nuclear site, stated that “nuclear waste is among the deadliest materials on this planet. Not only is it toxic ... (but) some of this waste remains radioactive for hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.” Much of this waste bioaccumulates, Carpenter explained, meaning that it can migrate to humans and attach itself to various organs including the liver and brain.

Yucca Mountain proponents want to transport more than 77,000 tons of that deadly stuff to our state, even though we no longer generate any nuclear waste. Like the self-serving congressmen who passed the notorious “Screw Nevada Bill” in 1987, they claim Nevada is a desert wasteland and that no one lives here. Well, Nevada is a much different state today than it was in 1987, and we’re now able to defend ourselves against the feds and the nuclear power industry.

Although I disagree with some of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s shenanigans, I always praise our senior senator for trying to halt the Yucca Mountain project by starving it to death — cutting its budget, that is. No money, no nuclear waste dump. Simple. Reid and the Obama administration tried to kill the project in 2010, but it refuses to die.

Carpenter didn’t mention Yucca Mountain in his Seattle Times piece. He wrote as follows about Hanford’s leaking storage tanks: “To protect human health and the environment for current and future generations ... the state should require Hanford to pump out those tanks that have failed and are leaking.” You generate the nuclear waste, you take care of it.

In Southern California, local governments are facing similar problems at the leaking San Onofre nuclear power plant near San Clemente, where 1,600 tons of nuclear waste is stored. A detailed investigative report in the Orange County Register speculated about whether Yucca Mountain is really “dead as a doornail,” noting that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered its staff to finish an $11 million safety evaluation for Yucca Mountain. That won’t happen if Congress doesn’t appropriate the funds. We’re counting on you, Harry.

“I’ll take any sign of forward momentum on Yucca Mountain as positive,” said a San Clemente city councilman. Translation: Not in our backyard. Let’s dump it on Nevada. But “the good folks of Nevada don’t want the nation’s nuclear garbage in their backyard,” the Register observed. No, we don’t, so it’s up to the good folks who generate the nuclear waste to figure out what to do with it.

“My initial response on Yucca Mountain was, ‘Great, let’s get this stuff out of SoCal,’” nuclear activist Joe Holtzman told the Register. “However, after studying the issues, particularly moisture seepage, I’m no longer a proponent (of Yucca Mountain).”

The Yucca Mountain project should remain in a state of suspended animation because, as the Register observed, most Nevadans don’t want it.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.


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