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Negotiation over Yucca Mountain plan would cripple state’s promising legal case

Norma Conway

Ken Moen’s recent column (“A strategy

to solve our tax problems,” Aug. 12)

suggesting that Nevada can solve its revenue

shortfall problems

by embracing the

Yucca Mountain

high-level nuclear

waste dump badly

missed the point

about why the state

cannot and must not negotiate on this

issue. Here are some of the compelling

reasons behind the state’s position:

Yucca Mountain is an unsafe site. No

amount of money or benefits will change

that fact. How do you put a dollar figure

on people’s lives, a safe environment, clean

water, the health and safety of future generations?

DOE plans to contaminate the

Amargosa Valley aquifer as part of its

“waste isolation strategy” for Yucca

Mountain, using dilution of the radioactive

waste in the underground water as a

way of making it appear that site is able to

meet the EPA’s radiation health protection

standards. The only argument is

when, not if, that contamination will

occur. Yucca Mountain is such a poor

repository site, geologically speaking, that

it would be irresponsible, even unconscionable,

for any state official to entertain

the notion of accepting the facility in

exchange for monetary or other benefits.

The costs and risks to the state far

exceed any benefits of the project. Yucca

Mountain would cost the state billions in

costs associated with dealing with the

direct effects of the program and the tens

of thousands of waste shipments that are

part of it. If there is an accident involving

radiation, the costs to Nevada would be

in the tens of billions of dollars, and the

potential damage to the state’s tourism

economy would be devastating. Because

of the way the state’s tax and revenue systems

operate, any impacts to

tourism/gaming revenues would dramatically

impact local governments, with long

term effects far exceeding any “compensation”

DOE might offer.

Any negotiation would cripple

Nevada’s legal cases. The only reason

DOE and the nuclear industry are trying

to entice Nevada and its local communities

with promises of benefits is that they

realize Yucca Mountain can only be built

if the state drops its opposition. Once

Nevada indicates even a willingness to

talk benefits or compensation, the battle

is over and the state will have capitulated.

That is exactly what the nuclear industry

lobbyists are hoping for.

Nevada has an excellent chance of

defeating the Yucca Mountain program

outright. The state has been preparing to

contest the project in the legal and technical

arenas for almost two decades and has

already engaged DOE in numerous legal

areas. Unlike in the political fight, DOE

is going to be forced to defend its shoddy

science and faulty conclusions in the

courts and before the NRC’s licensing

board, where DOE’s contentions will be

subject to cross examination by some of

the best attorneys in the country, supported

by Nevada’s first-rate scientific and

technical experts. The only thing that can

bail DOE out at this point is for Nevada

to voluntarily give up the fight. And any

negotiations for benefits would irreparably

damage Nevada’s legal cases and seriously

weaken the state’s credibility in challenging

the project in the technical arena.

You can’t trust DOE or the federal

government to live up to any commitments

it might make. People who think

negotiating with DOE or the industry is a

good idea need to understand that, once

Yucca Mountain gets the go ahead and

waste begins to flow, there is no longer

any incentive for DOE or Congress to

live up to any commitments made for

compensating the state or local governments.

For one thing, the nuclear waste

fund that supports the program using a

fee collected on electricity generated by

nuclear power plants is already woefully

inadequate to pay for the cost of constructing

and operating a repository. That

means taxpayers will have to pick up the

tab, and any “benefits” the state might

negotiate for will be competing with all of

the other project costs every year in the

annual congressional appropriation

process. The reality of the federal appropriations

process is that there is no way to

bind one administration or Congress into

a funding commitment made by a previous

administration or Congress. In effect,

any benefits agreement that might be

negotiated is, essentially, unenforceable.

The New Mexico example: One

needs only look at the situation New

Mexico finds itself in with regard to the

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant project, a

repository for transuranic waste and the

only facility that is remotely similar to the

proposed Yucca Mountain repository.

New Mexico early on chose not to contest

the project and negotiated with DOE

to accept the WIPP nuclear waste facility

in exchange for promises of funds for

roads and other things. All New Mexico

ever got was a few million dollars a year

for highway improvements money the

state probably would have gotten anyway

from the federal highway trust fund.

DOE reneged on every other commitment.

In addition, DOE continues to

hold the promised highway funds hostage

whenever New Mexico complains about

health and safety violations at WIPP.

The bottom line is, Yucca Mountain is

unsafe and unacceptable at any price.

Gov. Guinn and all of Nevada’s elected

representatives are right to reject any

form of negotiations that would require

the state to accept this project.

???

Norma Conway has worked for the Governor’s

Agency for Nuclear Projects since 1985. She is

the agency communications manager and frequently

participates in agency-related speaker’s

bureau activities where she provides Nevada’s

perspective on Yucca Mountain.