Legislative leaders said Friday the governor’s decision to cut the Nuclear Projects Office budget is not wise just when licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain begin.
“We’re taking away the expert staff you need right now,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.
Agency Director Bruce Breslow said the decision was made before his appointment. It cuts staff positions from seven ” only five of which are filled ” to just Breslow and an assistant.
Gov. Jim Gibbons’ administration said the reduction wouldn’t hurt the state’s fight against Yucca Mountain because most of the work is done by contractors, not the staff, and two people are enough to monitor those contracts.
But Leslie said the reduction “decimates” the agency just when the licensing hearings are to begin and federal judges prepare to hear the state’s challenges to the high level nuclear waste dump less than 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
“It makes it look like Nevada’s giving up the fight,” she said.
She was joined by Richard Bryan, chairman of the Nuclear Projects Commission, who said reducing the staff to two people “would be surrender.” He said because Breslow is so new, even though he is a quick study, it is critical to keep his veteran staff because their knowledge of the more than 26 year fight to block it.
Bryan fought the dump project as governor in the early 1980s and through two terms as a U.S. senator.
“It would be morally reprehensible to compromise the future of Nevadans not yet born by accepting this project,” he told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Breslow said he has presented a compromise to the governor’s office to let him keep four employees in his office, and let longtime employee Joe Strolin retire then bring him back on a $50,000 annual part-time contract to advise the agency.
Breslow also said he is encouraged by President Obama’s statements that Yucca Mountain is not going to open.
The legal hearing is set to begin March 31 reviewing 229 objections filed by Nevada, Clark County and the state of California.
He said the fight will cost millions but that he hopes to get $5 million a year from the federal government.
Asked about those, including Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, who say the state should bargain with the government for potentially billions available to the state if it accepts the dump, Breslow said there is no money.
“I keep asking where’s the money and they just keep saying it’s there,” he said. “And, really, it’s not there.”
“It’s a mythic folk tale,” he told the committee.
Breslow said offering to bargain with the government and nuclear power industry would greatly compromise the state’s position. He said the only way Nevada could get money for taking the dump would be to “go to Congress each session and ask for money.”
“Other states don’t want to give Nevada money,” he said. “And no state wants the dump.”
Bryan too told the committee the claim Nevada can make billions by taking the dump is a myth: “At the end of the nuclear rainbow, there’s no pot of gold.”
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.