Yucca offers Hollywood ending | NevadaAppeal.com

Yucca offers Hollywood ending

by J.L. Smith

I’m thinking of writing a story.

It’s about a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere way out in Nevada.

The story begins a quarter century ago with a plan to create the hole. Officially, the hole would be used as a place to store radioactive waste collected from around the country. In reality, the hole was a metaphor for the blind power and limitless greed of the men who became wealthy beyond our dreams but in the process created a waste so deadly it was capable of killing our children’s children thousands of years into the future. Those powerful men decided to make billions first and fret the consequences later.

When the future arrives, they use their vast political contacts to force the hole upon politically puny Nevada, a state which possesses an outlaw reputation, initially has only three representatives in Congress, and hasn’t enough juice to light a 20-watt bulb.

The state is targeted from the outset. Conventional wisdom, which is seldom wise, makes the hole’s destiny a foregone conclusion. In short, it’s all over but the shouting, the digging, and the paperwork.

The people of Nevada don’t want the hole, but their voices are drowned out by the sound of digging. Not just the physical kind, but the political kind as well.

In an effort to soothe the fears of the citizens, expensive advertising campaigns are produced to wear them down. Lobbyists are hired to soften up politicians.

Those digging the hole invite skeptics, the curious, and the media to visit it, don hard hats, and decide for themselves whether it’s safe. Forget for a moment that common citizens, and especially reporters, aren’t competent judges of such scientific questions. Remember, this isn’t about science.

Just when Nevadans had all but given up hope, a twist ending: Federal judges sitting 3,000 miles from the hole hear that the science of the project is flawed, and agree. For the first time in a quarter century, science trumps politics. The court ruling promises the project will be delayed for many years, so many in fact that work on the hole will cease.

It is Bobby Thomson’s home run, Michael Jordan’s jump shot, and Rocky Balboa’s comeback all rolled into one. Nevada, the underdog’s underdog, the flyweight among sumo wrestlers, prevails.

The hole only looks empty.

In reality, it is crowded with many things.

First, there’s money. Through the years, the government spends billions of dollars studying the hole, preparing to dig it. This money comes from taxpayers and electric power consumers. Billions that could have been frittered away on poor children, ailing veterans, health care for the elderly, or even wider interstates, are poured into the hole.

Then, there’s the paperwork. By the government’s own count, it has created 5.6 million pages of documents about the hole, far more than has been written about the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis combined. Those pages also flow into the hole.

It remains far from filled. There’s still enough room in the hole for a sitting president, who conned Nevadans into believing he was sincere when he promised that science, and not politics, would rule the process. Those who had followed the story believed that politics would always rule the process.

He would be joined by some members of his party, including a former Nevada governor, who were only too eager to sell out for shekels in the name of the “inevitability” of the project. In the end, billions are spent. Political careers rise and fall. Columnists make fools of themselves misreading the landscape.

The hole in the ground goes down as one of the greatest boondoggles in the history of a nation whose politicians pride themselves on their fiscal foolishness.

As the credits roll in the movie version, the project is silent. Tumbleweeds roll past the hole. A curious coyote sniffs at the entrance, cocks his head at the incomprehensible waste, and trots off into a golden Nevada sunset.

Yes, I’m thinking of writing a story about a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere way out in Nevada. But who would believe it?

John L. Smith’s column appears Fridays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.