Nevada is competing with calamities all over |

Nevada is competing with calamities all over

Barry Smith

One of the problems Nevada will have in getting anybody in other states to pay attention to its campaign against nuclear-waste storage at Yucca Mountain is the fact everybody is preoccupied with their own environmental calamities.

In Nevada, we’re dismayed the federal government would even consider shipping nuclear waste here. Yucca Mountain is in the news nearly every day, politicians debate and declaim, columnists like me expound on the topic.

We also think the rest of the country should be just as outraged. The message in Nevada’s lobbying campaign is that radioactive gunk will be traveling right past your house. Or pretty close, anyway.

Write your senators, we say. Let them know how you feel, we urge. Help Nevada, we plead.

And some will hear our cry for help. For most, however, Yucca Mountain in Nevada will be just another tree in a forest of controversial issues. Our plea will be lost in the windstorm of criticism that blows constantly, saying “Our own government is doing something horrible to us and we just can’t get it to stop.”

The first state targeted for Nevada’s lobbying campaign is Vermont, liberal and environmentally conscience. We’re hoping to get some help.

But one doesn’t have to look hard to find where Vermont’s environmental concerns lie: the Hudson River.

Yes, it’s actually in New York where General Electric dumped cancer-causing PCB in the river for 35 years. But it’s a helluva lot closer to Vermont than Yucca Mountain. In fact, it’s a lot closer than Yucca Mountain is to most Nevadans.

The Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken a $500 million Superfund cleanup project to dredge the PCB-laden silt out of the Hudson. It’s been a controversy for two decades now — about the same time as Yucca Mountain — and there are deeply divided opinions on the best way to proceed.

The plan calls for environmental dredging, described as a process that can remove the bad silt. But opponents of that plan say it will merely stir up the PCBs that have settled to the bottom of the river and will actually worsen the contamination.

Have you heard of this issue? Perhaps so. Have you been moved to call or write your senator to express an opinion? Probably not.

On the question of transporting nuclear waste, is Nevada the only state with a problem on its hands? Far from it.

In South Carolina, they’re just as angry with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham as we are in Nevada.

Gov. Jim Hodges has vowed to use state troopers to block the Energy Department from sending several tons of plutonium into South Carolina from the shuttered Rocky Flats weapons plant in Colorado.

“The department intends to begin shipping plutonium from Rocky Flats to Savannah River no sooner than 30 days from today,” Abraham wrote Monday. “It is essential that we begin shipments of materials from Rocky Flats to South Carolina by approximately May 15, 2002 in order to meet the nation’s goal of closing the facility.”

The controversy centers on whether South Carolina is to be the temporary storage site, as the feds promise, or whether the plutonium will stay there forever.

Most people are probably thinking, “Gee, sounds like South Carolina’s problem. I’m glad I’m in Nevada, because that stuff has to be shipped all the way from Colorado to South Carolina. I wouldn’t want it going past my house.”

Ultimately, it’s an issue you’ve probably managed to avoid, unless you’re a regular on the nuclear-storage beat. And if you are, then you probably already know Russia doesn’t want to store nuclear waste from the United States, either.

Actually, Russia — like some folks in short-lived Bullfrog County, Nev. — thought importing nuclear waste might be a profitable business venture. But it seems like the market for reprocessed nuclear fuel is on the down side right now, and Russian environmentalists are worried their country is going to become a dumping ground for the whole nuclear world.

Like I said, things are tough all over.

I could go on with examples of controversies. Do you think the farmers in the Klamath Basin of Oregon, where irrigation water was cut off to save an endangered fish, give a damn about some empty mountain in the desert of Nevada?

Pick up a newspaper in any part of the country, you’ll find a big environmental issue and a lot of ideas on how it should be solved.

Do I think the Yucca Mountain foes are wrong? No. Am I suggesting Nevada should give up its fight? No. Am I recommending the state should do any less to build support and try to win votes in the Senate? No.

I’m just saying we shouldn’t expect a lot of help.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.