Reid, Congress deserves praise for keeping Yucca nuke dump at bay |

Reid, Congress deserves praise for keeping Yucca nuke dump at bay

Guy Farmer
For the Appeal

Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave Nevada a most welcome Christmas present earlier this month by slashing the budget for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump by more than 12 percent to its lowest level in several years. Although I disagree with Sen. Reid on many issues, including illegal immigration and Iraq, we owe him and Congress a vote of thanks for keeping nearly 80 million tons of highly toxic nuclear waste out of the Silver State.

“I’m proud that I was successful in cutting $104.5 million from Yucca’s budget,” Reid told the Associated Press. “It’s clear that the Yucca Mountain project is a dying beast, and I hope this cut in funding will help drive the final nail into its coffin.” The Bush administration requested $494 million for Yucca Mountain for the next fiscal year, but Congress appropriated only $390 million, which is about $50 million less than the current operating budget. Project Director Ward Sproat called the budget cut “very serious.” Too bad about that.

I’m pleased to note that all of the Democratic presidential candidates – even those who supported it in the past – have announced their opposition to Yucca Mountain. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is against the project even though her husband, Bill, allowed it to go forward when he was president. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who went along with it when he was President Clinton’s Energy Secretary, now opposes the toxic waste dump. How times change!

I haven’t heard a clear statement of opposition to the Yucca Mountain project from any of the Republican candidates except for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a Libertarian who is against virtually everything that the federal government does. I’m unaware that any of the GOP front-runners have opposed Yucca Mountain; please correct me if I’m wrong.

President Bush betrayed Nevada in 2002 when he approved the project despite promising to base his decision on “sound science” when he was running for president. He based his decision on junk science, however, and bought into the “Nevada is a desert and no one lives there” argument of his wealthy friends from the nuclear power industry.

There are a handful of short-sighted Nevadans, including former Gov. Bob List and my friends and fellow Appeal columnists Maizie Harris Jesse and Carolyn Tate, who argue that we should sell out to the Feds. “Nevada could solve all of its infrastructure woes … by going along with this (Yucca) and taxing every entity that ‘dumps on us,'” they wrote in a recent column. Sorry ladies, but when it comes to nuclear waste in our backyard, let’s think about our children and grandchildren.

Reprocess the waste

Whenever I oppose Yucca Mountain, some of my more scientific friends ask me what I’d do with the nation’s nuclear waste. Well, I’d leave it right where it’s generated – none of it is generated in Nevada – and work diligently to develop a waste reprocessing program, as they do in France and other countries. Or is it that France is more technologically advanced than we are? I don’t think so. And besides, I think the dump issue is political rather than scientific, and reject the spurious idea that the project is “safe.” If it’s so safe, why don’t our politicians put the dump on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.?

I recently attended a Reno lecture on the nation’s energy crisis during which a very well-informed speaker advocated an increase in nuclear power along with a waste reprocessing program. That plan makes sense to me and I hope it will be included in any future energy legislation considered by Congress.

In the meantime, I’m pleased that our state’s efforts to slow down or kill Yucca Mountain are succeeding against an arrogant federal bureaucracy that wants to jam the nuclear waste down our throats. Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) defied a federal court order banning the use of state water for the project and announced plans to double the size of the “repository” – their word, although I think “suppository” (thanks to the late Nevada Sen. Chic Hecht) is more accurate.

Originally, DOE planned to open the toxic dump by 1998 but the timetable has been pushed back to 2017 at the earliest, thanks to successful lawsuits by opponents, quality control concerns and funding shortfalls. With luck, however, it will never open and Nevada won’t become the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Clearly, the project is on life support and it’s time to pull the plug.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a semi-retired journalist who has been an adopted Nevadan since 1962.