Strong: Dramatically out of touch

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“Sam Brown is one of the extreme few who believes that this is something that would make sense for Nevada. It puts him dramatically out of touch with the people of this state.” 

— Nevada State Assemblyman Howard Watts, May 2.

Nuclear waste disposal has been a national problem for over 80 years. When atomic bombs were first developed and tested, dangerous waste products were created, with no plan for permanent storage.

In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower laid out a plan titled “Atoms for Peace,” sharing information on atomic power with other countries. Eisenhower hoped atomic power could be used for peaceful purposes, especially energy production.

As a result, the first U.S. commercial nuclear power plant was opened on May 26, 1958. As more nuclear plants were built, the problem of where to store the radioactive waste became apparent. Clearly, temporary storage at the plants was not a sustainable option.

In 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, designed to select and study sites for the permanent disposal of nuclear waste, was passed. One provision of the act said that state governments could veto the decision to put a waste repository in their state, unless Congress overrode the veto.

The Department of Energy began studying possible sites for long-range nuclear waste storage. On Dec. 19, 1984, the DOE announced they had chosen 10 possible sites. That list was narrowed down to three possible sites: Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

On Dec. 17, 1987, congressional members from Washington and Texas amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, limiting the choice to Yucca Mountain. The bill, nicknamed the “Screw Nevada” bill, was passed by Congress and signed into law on Dec. 22 by President Ronald Reagan. The bill had nothing to do with safety or science. As then-Gov. Richard Bryan said, it was “raw, naked politics.”

Under President George W. Bush, construction on the nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain began, over the objections of virtually every elected official in Nevada. In 2002, Nevada tried to veto the designation. Congress overrode Nevada’s veto and construction continued. Finally, under President Barack Obama, funding was suspended and the project stopped.

Nevadans’ objections to storing nuclear waste are based on a several facts. First, Nevada produces no high-level nuclear waste, so we shouldn't become the dumping ground for states which do.

Second, nuclear storage requires a completely stable geologic environment. Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office has said that Yucca Mountain is “geologically and hydrologically active and complex.” This makes it unsafe for storage of radioactive substances.

Third, transporting nuclear waste through Nevada would be problematic. Any accident could potentially contaminate Nevada’s largest population centers.

Opposition to Yucca Mountain is overwhelmingly bipartisan. Republican opponents include U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, former Gov. Brian Sandoval and current Gov. Joe Lombardo. This is why comments by Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Brown are so inappropriate.

While campaigning for U.S. Senate in 2022, Brown, now the Republican front-runner for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2024, told a campaign gathering that he supported bringing nuclear waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants to Yucca Mountain.

“If we don’t act soon,” Brown added, “other states like Texas and New Mexico, right now, are assessing whether or not they can essentially steal that opportunity from us. And at the end of the day, we all know Nevada could use another great source of revenue and it sure would be a shame if we didn’t monopolize on that and become a central hub of new development that we can do at Yucca.” (Nevada Current, May 1)

Brown moved to Texas after his graduation from West Point Military Academy. In 2014, he ran for Congress in Texas. He seems unaware that in 1987, Texas pulled out of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, wanting no part of a nuclear repository. If this is a “great source of revenue,” why did Texas bow out?

Brown moved here in 2018, unlike Sen. Jacky Rosen, who has lived and worked here since 1979. Brown’s comments on Yucca Mountain show he has no idea what Nevadans want or need.

“The truth is that the vast majority of those that have been elected to serve the people of Nevada, have opposed this project. Many of them are in Mr. Brown’s own party. ...This issue isn’t Republicans versus Democrats. It’s Sam Brown versus Nevada.” (Reno Gazette Journal, May 5)

Nevadans need a senator who understands what we want and need. Sam Brown fails on both points.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Foundation award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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