The betrayal of Nevada on nuclear waste

Last Sunday, I wrote that President Bush betrayed Nevada three years ago by approving the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump despite a campaign promise that his decision would be based on "sound science." But if that flawed and dangerous project represents sound science, then Nevada is a tropical island. Same logic.

In a brief visit to Las Vegas last weekend, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who's all but certain to be the Democratic presidential candidate this fall, recalled Bush's Yucca Mountain campaign promise in 2000. "Nevadans understand better than anyone why so many Americans don't trust George W. Bush," the senator said in a statement. "Four years ago, candidate Bush promised not to ship nuclear waste to your state unless scientifically deemed safe. But after the election, President Bush caved to special interests and broke his promise to Nevada." And so he did, which is why the 70 percent of Nevadans who oppose Yucca Mountain will have trouble voting for the president in November.

Let's look back at how the U.S. Senate voted on this partisan issue in late 2001. Republicans favored the Yucca Mountain dump 45-3 while Democrats, including Kerry, opposed it by a margin of 36-15. Only two GOP senators joined Nevada's John Ensign in opposing the measure. So much for "sound science." It was pure politics.

Speaking in Reno last Wednesday, former Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board member Paul Craig charged that the proposed Nevada repository is poorly designed and could leak highly radioactive waste. "I would never say Yucca Mountain won't work," he said. "What I would say is the design they have won't work." At the same time, the respected Union of Concerned Scientists asserted that "the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented." That's what we've been saying all along.

But the politicians continue to push the Yucca Mountain dump because "Nevada is a desert and no one lives there." Right? Wrong! And that's why we should keep fighting against a project that would damage our tourist-based economy and jeopardize the health of our children and grandchildren for generations to come. So I applaud the bipartisan efforts of our elected officials to derail the Yucca Mountain express.

Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn was as animated as I've ever seen him when he accused the U.S. Energy Department and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham - a failed politician from Michigan - of bad faith during a public hearing in September 2001. Calling Abraham's support of the project "premature and grossly irresponsible," the governor said the nuclear waste storage issue "is paramount to the health and safety of every Nevadan and every American whose home, school or place of business sits along the proposed paths that the deadliest substance on earth" will travel.

Last November, State Engineer Hugh Ricci did his part by cutting off the Feds' water, denying the permits they need in order to turn Nevada into the nation's nuclear dumping ground. Meanwhile Nevada's Harry Reid, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, has called for a federal investigation of Yucca Mountain safety practices following charges by a former project worker that her supervisors ordered her to falsify reports on toxic silica dust levels at the site. Reid wants to halt construction pending the investigation.

After the Senate's party-line approval of the dumpsite, our elected officials vowed to fight on in the federal courts. And just last month we won a partial victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., which ruled that the government should protect people from harmful radiation for 300,000 years - a standard urged by Nevada officials and the National Academy of Sciences -- instead of the 10,000 years required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The longer standard could make it more difficult for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the Yucca Mountain dumpsite by the 2010 target date for completion.

The Bush administration appealed the court's ruling and sought a huge increase in Yucca Mountain funding, from $580 million in the current fiscal year to $908 million in fiscal 2005. Of course Nevada's bipartisan congressional delegation will do everything possible to block the increased funding. For starters, congressmen Jim Gibbons, Shelley Berkley and Jon Porter are joining senators Reid and Ensign to oppose a $186 million DOE appropriation for the study of nuclear waste transportation routes, an issue that resonates in many other states including Minnesota, where the Legislature is considering a bill to ban the shipment of nuclear waste through densely populated areas of the state.

By now it's clear that this isn't a scientific issue; it's a political issue, and has been ever since Congress passed the "Screw Nevada" Bill in 1987, designating Yucca Mountain as the only site to be studied in a search for a permanent repository for more than 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive nuclear waste. Since then, the Feds have downplayed safety concerns and focused instead on how to make the project a reality, which appears increasingly difficult given Nevada's growing political clout.

Some misguided Nevadans led by former Gov. Bob List, a paid lobbyist for the nuclear energy industry, argue that since the project is "inevitable," we should sell out for large amounts of federal dollars. These turncoats are willing to mortgage the future of our children for federal handouts. No thanks! Let's hold firm and tell the Feds where they can put their nuclear waste (none of which is generated in Nevada, by the way).

MANY THANKS to the person, or persons, who published a heart-warming tribute to my late wife Consuelo in the Appeal on Feb. 12, the first anniversary of her untimely death. My family and I thank you for keeping her radiant spirit alive.

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


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