Defending Nevada against nuclear waste
April 6, 2003
A few days ago the Reno Gazette-Journal published a dubious column on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository headlined, “When Yucca suits fail, what will we do?” Curious about who “we” was, I read further and discovered that the column had been written by Donald Mausshardt, a former federal bureaucrat and self-described “professional engineer” who lives in Klamath Falls, Ore., of all places.
Mausshardt, a former deputy director of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (which sounds like an oxymoron to me), urged Nevada to surrender to the Bush administration and the Department of Energy by accepting the nuclear dump and negotiating with the feds for “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Which reminds me of James Carville’s tasteless remark during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandals about dragging hundred-dollar bills through trailer parks. In Mr. Mausshardt’s warped world, Nevada is one big trailer park.
“The Yucca Mountain program is something that, while distasteful to the citizens of Nevada, is moving toward becoming a reality,” he wrote, adding that “Nevada could secure billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements as part of a negotiated settlement.” Note how he went from millions to billions of dollars within a few short paragraphs. Perhaps he thought us ignorant trailer park dwellers wouldn’t notice the discrepancy.
What Mr. Mausshardt is saying is that 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste will be good for us because we’ll receive big federal payoffs for putting the health of our children and grandchildren at risk. As an alternative, perhaps he’d like the DOE to dump the lethal waste into the Klamath Basin, where the federal government (which he trusts) has cut off water to formerly productive farmlands in order to save an endangered fish. As a former Klamath Falls resident, I’m as outraged by Mausshardt’s cavalier attitude toward nuclear waste as I am by the feds’ indifference to family farmers in that rich agricultural area.
As I read Mausshardt’s column I remembered a warning issued early this year by Citizen Alert, a Nevada nuclear watchdog group. “The snake oil salesmen are still with us!” Citizen Alert declared in its January newsletter. “Nevadans have received in the mail slick brochures from a group called ‘Nevadans for Nuclear Safety and Benefits,’ … which promises great benefits if we roll over and acquiesce to the Yucca Mountain proposal.” Sound familiar?
So here’s my question to the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial page editor: Did you check to see if Mr. Mausshardt has any relationship with Nevadans for Nuclear Safety and Benefits, or any other group financed by the greedy nuclear energy industry, which stands to make billions of dollars from the Yucca Mountain project? That would have been an appropriate question in the interests of full disclosure. In other words, was Mausshardt paid for writing that op-ed piece and if so, by whom?
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Mausshardt is convinced that Nevada will lose all six of the lawsuits it has filed against the DOE. “The proponents of these lawsuits want us to ignore the reality that they are likely to fail — not unlike Saddam Hussein’s current pleas to his people to ignore reality and rally to his side,” he wrote. The odious comparison between Yucca Mountain opponents and Saddam Hussein should convince us to fight even harder against this flawed and dangerous scheme.
I say “flawed and dangerous” because one of Nevada’s lawsuits contends that DOE conducted a “flawed environmental review” of the Yucca site and failed to adequately assess problems involving the transportation of nuclear waste to the site. In fact, just last week DOE admitted that it is considering trucking all of the waste to the site rather than building a rail spur, as experts have recommended. “DOE is facing a desperate budget situation and this is something they’re throwing up to buy themselves some time,” asserted Robert Halstead, a nuclear waste transportation consultant hired by the state.
Last summer, mayors from across Nevada expressed concern about nuclear waste shipments to the site only 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in the nation. The mayors objected to large shipments of radioactive cargo past Nevada cities, over bridges and through tunnels on its way to Yucca Mountain. And one of them, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, vowed to arrest any DOE truck driver who enters his jurisdiction with lethal cargo. You go, Oscar!
For his part, Gov. Kenny Guinn has been steadfast in his opposition to the dump. “Nevadans are overwhelmingly against this project,” he told the Associated Press. “The playing field is level now that we’re in court. We feel that we have more than a fighting chance (to win).” You go, Kenny!
Contrary to Mausshardt’s belief that Yucca Mountain is a done deal, a Las Vegas federal judge decided last month to wait until other lawsuits are resolved before he rules on whether the state can shut off water to the dump. “This (decision) is complementary to our effort and quite supportive,” commented Bob Loux, who coordinates Nevada’s anti-dump campaign. Meanwhile, Joe Egan, a high-powered lobbyist who is coordinating Nevada’s efforts in Washington, has assured the state that he has assembled “a world class team” of legal experts to examine the safety of Yucca Mountain.
“We do not expect to win every legal battle, nor do we expect to lose them all,” he wrote in the Gazette-Journal last September. “Victory in one may be enough. In the end, Nevada will secure its real remedy: Yucca Mountain will never open as a nuclear waste repository.” You go, Joe!
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.