State’s GOP delegation split on Yucca negotiations
August 26, 2004
LAS VEGAS – While most of the state’s Republican delegates agree that President Bush’s approval of a national nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain will not cost him Nevada in the November election, they are evenly divided on whether the state should negotiate for benefits in exchange for the federal project.
Thirty-six percent of the state’s 33 delegates who are heading to New York for the party’s national convention next week believe Nevada officials should not hold talks with the federal government about Yucca Mountain, according to a survey by The Associated Press.
The same number, 12 delegates or 36 percent, think Nevada should negotiate for benefits in exchange for the state being the disposal site of 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive nuclear waste.
“It seems pretty damn close to a done deal,” said delegate Su Kemper, a photojournalist from Reno. “I think Nevada should get something out of it.”
Kemper and some of her fellow delegates said federal money could dramatically improve the lives of Nevada’s residents.
“We could have our whole education system paid for,” Kemper said.
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“We should trade for water,” said Daniel Tuntland, a real estate developer from Las Vegas. “If we got more water … our problems would be minuscule.”
Others were equally adamant that no talks should take place.
“Negotiations are not an option,” said delegate Brian Sandoval, who is spearheading the state’s legal efforts against Yucca Mountain as Nevada’s attorney general. “I’m not willing to negotiate the health and safety of Nevadans.”
The state’s top Republican leaders, including Sandoval and Gov. Kenny Guinn, have been put in the tough spot of having to explain why they support Bush’s re-election campaign, even though they vehemently disagree with him on the nuclear dump. They point to other issues as reasons why they support Bush.
“What are they going to do, not support their party’s presidential candidate?” said David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV. “They’ve done the best they can with it. They agree to disagree.”
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has helped make Yucca Mountain part of the national debate this election season by vowing to kill the project if he’s elected. Nevada Democrats have accused Bush of breaking a 2000 campaign promise to base a decision on Yucca Mountain on “sound science.” They hope the issue will swing the tide in Nevada, a battleground state Bush won four years ago in a close contest.
Bush has accused Kerry of using the issue as a “political poker chip,” and defended his decision to approve Yucca Mountain. He has said he will stand by what decisions are made by the courts and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will consider the government’s licensing application for the project.
The rest of the delegates either did not respond to the informal survey or declined to answer the question. Some said they are waiting to hear what the courts have to say.
“It’s not over yet,” said delegate Brian Scroggins, a sign company owner from Las Vegas. “I don’t think it’s a done deal.”
A federal appeals court recently ruled the project does not go far enough to protect people from potential radiation, raising questions of whether the Energy Department can meet deadlines for the proposed opening in 2010.
Although Bush has been on the other side of the nuclear waste issue, Nevada’s Republican delegates don’t think it will hurt him Nov. 2.
Fifty-two percent of those surveyed believe Bush’s approval of Yucca Mountain will not cost him Nevada. Seven delegates, or 21 percent, said it could. The rest of the delegates either did not respond or said they weren’t sure.
“I think a lot of people were counting on him not approving it when they voted for him last time. They feel disappointed,” said Sherry Dilley, a Minden retiree.
“Anybody who is undecided may go against him because of that,” said delegate Joe Cortez, a professional boxing referee from Las Vegas.
Cortez, like many of the delegates, said there are other more important issues, including the war in Iraq, health care and the economy.
“I would definitely not put Kerry in charge of the country because of Yucca Mountain,” Cortez said.
Some delegates also pointed to Kerry’s record on Yucca Mountain. Kerry voted for a 1987 bill that included the so-called “Screw Nevada” provision limiting studies for a nuclear dump to the Nevada site.