Referendum on Yucca? Not really

Shortly after Nevada election results were announced on Nov. 2, Nuclear Energy Institute lobbyists and their Silver State lackeys boasted that President Bush's victory meant that the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is a fait accompli - a done deal. That's the bad news; the good news is that they misread the election results.

"It turned out the wrong way for them (Yucca Mountain opponents)," said John Kane, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president for governmental affairs. "We believe the people of Nevada realize this project is going to happen, and in fact, are focused on other issues."

In my opinion, however, Mr. Kane has a bad case of wishful thinking. The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Nevadans remains adamantly opposed to the Yucca Mountain project.

A recent poll by Northwest Survey and Data Service, of Oregon - which isn't financed by Kane's Institute - revealed that 76.8 percent of Nevada respondents oppose the toxic project, and two-thirds of them want to continue to fight the plan instead of making a deal with the federal government. This is a resounding slap in the face to the Institute and its highly paid consultants including former Nevada Gov. Bob List, who asserted that Bush's three-percentage-point victory in this state was a vote for Yucca Mountain. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, without the nuclear dump issue, Bush would have won our "red" (conservative) state by five or six points.

I agree with John Hadder, Northern Nevada director for Citizen Alert, an anti-Yucca Mountain organization, who said that Nevada's pro-Bush vote didn't constitute an endorsement of the nuclear waste dump project. "There's a lot of factors that go into how voters decide on a presidential candidate," he added. "(Nevada) voters had a lot of other things on their minds." Like the War on Terrorism, for example.

"Yucca is as bad an idea today as it was yesterday, or before the election," said Tessa Hafen, a spokesperson for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will soon become the new Senate minority leader following the defeat of Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. In that position, Reid will spearhead opposition to Yucca Mountain by carrying the fight to the Bush administration and the Energy Department. Every time President Bush needs Democratic votes in the Senate, he'll have to deal with Reid, who drives a hard bargain despite his soft-spoken style.

Some state officials, including Nuclear Projects Director Bob Loux, believe the Yucca Mountain project is "dead in the water" because of a federal court decision last July finding that the repository failed to meet National Academy of Sciences safety standards, a requirement set by Congress for the project to move forward. To save the project, the Environmental Protection Agency must write new standards - a process that could take more than a decade - or Congress must change its standards.

The Nevada Legislature's Interim Finance Committee last Monday appropriated $1.6 million to continue the battle against Yucca Mountain. Of that amount, $1 million will replace money the federal government cut from the state's budget request. The new appropriation will permit the state to meet a deadline to enter more than one million documents into an electronic database set up by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency as part of its licensing process.

After the Nevada Republican Party surrendered to the Nuclear Energy Institute at its statewide convention several months ago, I was concerned that GOP office-holders would follow their party's embarrassing sellout. But I'm pleased to report that they held firm and rejected blandishments offered by nuclear industry lobbyists - specifically, elected Republicans told the lobbyists what they could do with their million-dollar payoffs. In so doing, they refused to gamble the health and safety of our children and grandchildren in exchange for turning our state into the nation's nuclear waste dump.

So my hat is off not only to Sen. Reid and his fellow Democrats for fighting this dangerous project but also to their Republican counterparts: Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Jim Gibbons and Attorney General Brian Sandoval. Although I've criticized Sandoval and state gaming control authorities for permitting Nevada gaming licensees to operate Indian casinos in California, I applaud his firm stand against Yucca Mountain.

Even after speaking at the Republican National Convention last summer, Sandoval has continued to lead our fight against the nuclear waste dump. "People realize this is a fight that is in the courts," he said. "It is important for the public to know how the people in Nevada are consistently against the project regardless of who is in the White House." Well said, Mr. Attorney General. I admire your principled stand against powerful forces in your own party.

The Nevada Appeal commented as follows in an editorial last Sunday: "The real reason to keep battling Yucca Mountain continues to be the illogical transference of 77,000 tons of radioactive waste from around the country to a site where safe disposal is scientifically questionable." And since Nevada generates none of this toxic waste, why should we be the repository for it? President Bush and his aides should consider alternative sites starting with Crawford, Texas, a small, isolated town with little political clout. After all, those were the reasons our state was chosen when Congress passed the infamous "Screw Nevada" bill in 1987. Fair enough? I think so.

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


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