Chuck Muth: Cash for Yucca is no fantasy | NevadaAppeal.com
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Chuck Muth: Cash for Yucca is no fantasy

Chuck Muth

Joe Strolin ” soon-to-be-ex-executive director Bob Loux’s right-hand man over at the Nuclear Waste Project Office (NWPO) ” wrote the following in a letter to the Nevada Appeal published last June 13:

“Maybe it’s the rarefied air atop his soapbox or perhaps it’s the blinding glare of fool’s gold, but once again Chuck Muth has it all wrong on Yucca Mountain … Muth’s call for the State of Nevada to sit down and negotiate with the Feds over Yucca is laughable … Muth’s myth that the state is somehow losing out on millions of dollars that can be had for the asking is equally laughable.”

Strolin went on to characterize the notion that Yucca money from the federal government might be available for Nevada as “pure fantasy.” And this is exactly the problem I have with the NWPO. They simply don’t tell Nevadans the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The truth is, just a week before Mr. Strolin’s letter was published, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma submitted an amendment (SA 4931) to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 (S 3036), which indeed offered Nevada not just millions of dollars, but HUNDREDS of millions of dollars. As the saying goes, you could look it up.

I wasn’t aware of this offer until this week, and I’m betting almost every one of you reading this column today was unaware of it, as well. That’s because folks like Joe Strolin and Bob Loux don’t WANT you to know about it. Which is what ticks me off so much about how their office has handled this matter over the years. How can Nevada’s citizens make an objective, rational, fully-informed decision on this important public policy issue without having ALL the information?

As Sen. Inhofe’s amendment explains, you can’t have expanded use of nuclear energy without somehow disposing of the spent nuclear fuel rods. By law, the federal government is responsible for providing a disposal facility, and electricity customers already paid over $27 billion in fees to fund a nuclear waste repository. In 2002, the President recommended Yucca Mountain as the site of the repository and Congress agreed. The final step of getting the facility licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is now well underway.

Sen. Inhofe notes that the repository is 20 years behind schedule. This has resulted in judicial actions against the federal government for breach of contract, which in turn has “subjected taxpayers to billions of dollars in liability.” So the Inhofe amendment calls on the NRC to “allow the upgrade of non-nuclear infrastructure at the repository site prior to construction in an effort to accelerate progress and reduce taxpayer liability.”

In return, Section 1824 of the amendment (“Agreement with State of Nevada”) stipulates that the Secretary of Energy “shall offer to enter into a benefits agreement with the Governor of the State of Nevada.” And here’s the deal Inhofe has put on the table: While the NRC is considering the Yucca Mountain licensing application ” which it is doing as we speak ” Nevada would get $100 million a year. If the NRC ultimately approves the license application, Nevada would then receive $250 million a year during the construction phase. And thereafter, $500 million a year each year once spent nuclear fuel is stored at the site.

There is a catch, though (isn’t there always?).

The amendment stipulates that “no funds received under the benefits agreement shall be used to finance, promote, or assist any activity the goal or effect of which is to slow, interrupt, or prevent the licensing, construction, or operation of a geological repository at Yucca Mountain in the State.”

That doesn’t mean Nevada’s congressional delegation has to give up its opposition to Yucca Mountain, only that the benefit money the state would receive can’t be used to oppose Yucca Mountain. So the requirement isn’t onerous, nor does it mandate unconditional surrender.

Now, I’m not saying this is an acceptable offer. But its existence isn’t, as Strolin claims, a “fantasy.” It’s not a “myth.” It’s not “laughable.” It’s real. It’s on the table. Nevadans, at the very least, have a right to know about it, weigh it and decide the merits of the offer for themselves. Let the debate begin.

(Disclaimer: The Nuclear Energy Institute donated tote bags to my 2008 Conservative Leadership Conference last 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 http://www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at chuck@chuckmuth.com.