Guy W. Farmer: Is Yucca Mountain dead?

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Is the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste suppository — excuse me, repository — really dead? Or is it still on life support?

Those were the questions USA Today attempted to answer in a recent article headlined, “Yucca Mountain Lurches Back.” So let’s examine the current status of this highly toxic project. According to the national newspaper, the nuclear waste storage project “has either been ‘revived,’ or it’s ‘coming off the mat,’ or it’s ‘back on the agenda.’” I’ll give you yet another option: It’s still dead or dying.

After a semi-optimistic assessment, however, USA Today staff writer Bill Theobald went on to note “a closer examination (of the project) shows numerous hurdles remain that would take years to overcome before the facility ... could start receiving nuclear waste.” Despite a few vaguely hopeful developments for proponents of the nuclear waste dump, President Obama, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Gov. Brian Sandoval and most of Nevada’s congressional delegation are firmly opposed to the project. The two fence-sitters are GOP congressmen Mark Amodei of Carson City and Cresent Hardy of Las Vegas.

Although the House in May passed an appropriations bill that contained $50 million to continue the Yucca Mountain licensing process, Secretary Moniz said that appropriation won’t make any difference in the administration’s plan to scuttle the project. “We continue to feel that Yucca Mountain is just not workable,” he said. I second the motion, and so do most of Nevada’s elected officials.

How can the federal government even think of proceeding with such a controversial project without approval from elected officials who represent the people of the state of Nevada? Even though some Feds and the powerful nuclear energy industry want to shove more than 70,000 tons of highly radioactive waste down our throats, or somewhere else on our collective anatomy, Sen. Reid and state officials led by Republican Gov. Sandoval continue to oppose the project.

Sandoval and former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat who heads Nevada’s Nuclear Projects Commission, reiterated their implacable opposition to Yucca Mountain in a recent op-ed piece published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Is there a scenario in which Nevadans would actually welcome nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain?” they asked. “The answer to that question is an emphatic ‘No’ ... because (the mountain) is an unsafe place for storing or disposing of deadly nuclear waste.”

“Yucca Mountain was selected for purely political reasons having nothing to do with science or suitability,” they continued. “There is nothing for state officials to negotiate. In fact, we would be remiss in our duty to protect the public and the environment to entertain the notion that any amount of dollars could possibly compensate for likely grievous and lethal harm from siting a facility in such an unsafe location ...” Well said!

Some politicians and the nuclear energy industry continue to tell us about the hundreds of millions of federal dollars we’ll receive for approving Yucca Mountain, but in previous columns I’ve compared that spurious offer to James Carville’s comments about dragging hundred-dollar bills through trailer parks. No thanks!

Yucca Mountain was the only dump site considered when Congress passed the notorious “Screw Nevada Bill” in 1987, ignoring other possible storage sites in Texas, Louisiana and Washington state because those states were protected by powerful politicians and Washington, D.C., lobbyists. We may have lacked congressional clout then, but not now.

So today’s Washington politicians and lobbyists can take their nuclear waste and put it somewhere else. It’s time for those D.C. power brokers to stop beating a dead or dying horse.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.


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