The truth about Yucca Mountain

In case you doubted whether Nevada is really a "battleground" state in this year's presidential election, consider this: The Bush/Cheney campaign last week began broadcasting TV ads in Reno and Las Vegas accusing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of flip-flopping on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump issue.

That's how crucial Nevada's five electoral votes are in this year's election.

"We think it's important for voters to understand John Kerry's real record on Yucca Mountain," said Bush/Cheney spokesperson Tracey Schmitt. "There is a rather large divide between his political rhetoric ... in Nevada and his voting record in the U.S. Senate," including a vote for the infamous "Screw Nevada" bill in 1987.

By now, however, the candidates' respective positions on this radioactive Nevada issue are crystal clear: President Bush supports the Yucca Mountain dump and Sen. Kerry opposes it. Any questions?

Nevada Democratic spokesman Jon Summers fired back at the GOP after the new TV ads began airing in the Silver State, charging that it was "outrageous and disingenuous" for the Republicans to distort Kerry's position on Yucca Mountain after President Bush approved the controversial project two years ago. Democrats noted that Kerry has consistently opposed Yucca Mountain in recent years and that he voted to uphold Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the project in 2002. As usual, the truth is somewhere between the positions enunciated by party spokesmen.

"I said I would make a decision based upon (sound) science, not politics ... and that's exactly what I did," President Bush told a group of supporters in Las Vegas earlier this month. But, as the Appeal noted in an editorial, "This rhetoric sounds suspiciously like that used about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq."

It sure does, because nearly 300 scientific questions about the Yucca Mountain dump remain unanswered despite Bush administration claims to the contrary. "President Bush took less than a day to review thousands of pages ... of scientific studies," added Nevada Nuclear Projects Director Bob Loux. "That is causing a lot of people to question his decision."

Among them is Paul Craig, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, who wrote that "the Bush administration has a different rule of thumb when it comes to the science of storing nuclear waste - ask as few questions as possible and ignore answers you don't like." Perhaps that's why the Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted in June to cut the current $577 million Yucca Mountain budget to only $131 million in the next fiscal year. (The administration requested $880 million for fiscal '05).

Sen. Kerry has accused the president of breaking his 2000 campaign promise to Nevada. "When John Kerry is president, there will be no nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Period," he promised in Las Vegas early this month. Instead, he said he would leave nuclear waste where it is at sites throughout the country (none of them in Nevada) for the time being and instruct the National Academy of Science to determine how the nation should deal with nuclear waste storage. Sounds reasonable to me.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat and an outspoken opponent of the nuclear dump project, has accused the Department of Energy and its contractors of failing to protect workers from dangerous levels of hazardous dust during drilling operations at the site only 90 miles northwest of the nation's fastest-growing city, Las Vegas.

Apparently, prolonged exposure to such dust can result in degenerative lung ailments such as silicosis. "'Don't worry about it' (the dust), they say," Reid commented, "but look at what they're doing. If they (contractors and the DOE) don't care about the people digging this hole in the ground out there, do they care about the kids on the playgrounds (and) the kids going to church?"

Maybe not because the nuclear energy industry, a major contributor to the Bush/Cheney campaign, is spending millions of dollars to assure that Yucca Mountain goes into operation by 2010, as scheduled. Some of that money is used to hire highly paid lobbyists, such as former Nevada Gov. Bob List, who argue that highly radioactive waste is safe and good for us.

Just shut up and take the government's (our own) money, they urge. Which is what the Nevada GOP did by endorsing the dangerous project. Nevertheless, to their credit, Nevada's Republican office-holders - Gov. Guinn, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Jim Gibbons and Atty. Gen. Brian Sandoval - remain inalterably opposed to the nuclear dump, as are more than 60 percent of Nevada voters.

And that's bad news for President Bush and the Republicans, as Rep. Gibbons recognized when he acknowledged that Yucca Mountain is a "terribly heavy political weight to bear in this state" because "so many people are adamantly opposed to it." He's right and that could cost President Bush the state of Nevada in November.

DRUG FESTIVAL: The annual Burning Man Drug Festival, which is virtually co-sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, takes place this coming week in the Black Rock National Conservation Area near Gerlach. So if your idea of a good time is to get naked and do illegal drugs in the presence of young children, that's where you should be over the Labor Day weekend. Nice!

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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