Bush win gives boost to Yucca plan
LAS VEGAS – Opponents of a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada lost their chance to put an ally in the White House with President Bush’s defeat of Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
“If you went into the polls and your top priority was, ‘I do not want nuclear waste in Nevada,’ you would have had to vote for Kerry,” said Judy Treichel, a longtime foe of the Yucca Mountain project. “Apparently there were other issues that people thought were more important.”
Bush carried Nevada by 2 percentage points after facing heavy Democratic criticism that he reneged on a 2000 campaign pledge when he approved the plan to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive waste 90 miles from Las Vegas.
Opinions differed on whether he was hurt by the criticism that he broke a promise to let “sound science” dictate the repository’s fate when he approved the site with 293 scientific questions left unanswered.
During four trips to Nevada, Bush defended his 2002 decision and accused Kerry of turning the issue into “a political poker chip.”
Kerry promised that Yucca Mountain would not open on his watch. Top Democrats including former President Clinton traveled to Nevada and cast the race a referendum on the project.
“It turned out the wrong way for them,” said John Kane, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “We believe the people of Nevada realize this project is going to happen, and, in fact, are focused on other issues.”
In a statewide exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and TV networks, voters cited terrorism, Iraq and moral values as the top campaign issues.
But 66 percent also called Yucca Mountain a somewhat or very important factor in their vote for president.
Kerry drew 73 percent of those who called it “very important.” But Bush got most of those who saw it as less important or not an issue.
“I guess the influence wasn’t as big as I thought it would be,” said Treichel, executive director of the Nuclear Waste Task Force in Las Vegas. “I guess I have to get over gnashing my teeth and being upset.”
Nevada is pressing lawsuits, hoping to stop the government from moving highly radioactive waste from commercial and military sites in 39 states to Yucca Mountain beginning in 2010.
The state’s fight might get a boost if Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. wins a bid to become the next Senate minority leader as expected.
“Yucca is as bad an idea today as it was yesterday or before the election,” Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen said. “But Senator Reid’s job is a lot harder now, with how the election turned out.”
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she expected the Bush administration would seize on the Election Day results as justification for the Yucca Mountain project.