Las Vegas Sun

July 4, 2015

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WHERE I STAND:

Killing Yucca Mountain would be a real gift

Welcome to December.

This is the time we think about ending one more chapter while we prepare to start another. It is a time of rejoicing, whatever your particular religious beliefs are or are not, because it is usually the time we think about being a little kinder, a little more forgiving and a little more, how shall I say it, human.

That is why I am taking this time to interject a harsh reality into what so many of us have believed to have been a Christmas gift come and gone. To tell the story, I will start with a well-known adage and end with another.

This is the season when the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is replayed for all to enjoy. I have watched it dozens of times, which either makes me a die-hard Jimmy Stewart fan, an insatiable sap or just another human being who enjoys the kind of movie that makes us feel good about the human spirit. There is no way anyone can say that the adage, “out of sight, out of mind” applies to that movie.

However, a calamity has been waiting to happen to our little community for over three decades, and those who wish to foist it upon us have done their best to keep its dangers out of sight. We dutifully have obliged and allowed it to elude our minds. Or, at least, we have allowed it to repose somewhere in the deepest part of our consciousness so as not to conflict with other challenges we face daily.

I am talking, of course, about the federal government’s not-yet-dead effort to bury the nation’s deadliest garbage ever produced — high-level nuclear waste — in Yucca Mountain, just a scant 90 miles from the epicenter of the world’s tourism mecca, Las Vegas.

We have been fortunate that Nevada has had a united effort by its political leaders up and down the line who have stood firmly opposed to any plan, any idea and any thought of allowing the rest of the country to dump its deadly waste in our backyard. It is no secret and has always been known — until the depressing recession that has knocked us on our heels recently — that the one occurrence that would stop Las Vegas’ growth in its tracks would be the opening of the dump and the inevitable radioactive accident.

The people of this state have always understood the danger of the dump and have been overwhelmingly and consistently opposed to Yucca Mountain. And they still are.

But, in the past couple of years, thanks to President Barack Obama and our senior U.S. senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, the prospects of that dump ever opening have been reduced to near zero. It has been a major achievement for the people of Nevada to get this done. And that is the problem.

We all think it is done. What we forget is that a change in the presidency, a change in Harry Reid’s status as majority leader, or a change in the political makeup of the U.S. Senate will resurrect that dump faster than a zombie in a grade-B horror film.

That is because Yucca Mountain continues to lurk in the hearts, minds and wallets of the nuclear power industry and its many proponents in the United States’ Capitol. Give those guys any opening and they will drive tens of thousands of high-level nuclear waste-filled trucks right into our backyard!

One reason that could happen is because Nevadans have gone to sleep at night the past couple of years believing that thing is really dead. It no longer registers on our “to do” list, as in “to do” anything we can to make sure we kill it and keep it dead. It is dead so we no longer think or care about it!

Wrong!

It is not dead and it will come back to haunt us faster than Congressmen Joe Heck and Mark Amodei can say they are open to discussions about what to do with Yucca Mountain. Yes, for the first time in our history, our congressional delegation is not on the same page and that should scare the heck out of every Nevadan.

So that brings me to the second adage. “Follow the money.”

Those who profess to be fair and open on the subject of nuclear waste and Nevada’s role as stooge in that process, insist that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission be allowed to determine whether Yucca Mountain is suitable. Those with half a brain know that the NRC is just a political animal ready to go to the highest bidder.

What, you say, how can Brian say that? The answer is simple.

The NRC is supposed to watch out for the health and safety of the people of the United States by making certain that all things nuclear are, well, safe. It is instructive to look at just two recent decisions by the NRC to help you determine whether Yucca Mountain and Nevadans will get a fair shake should the decision ever come before that group. As in should it choose between the health and safety of Nevadans or the health and well-being of the nuclear power industry.

On Nov. 8, the NRC disapproved a staff recommendation designed to enhance the agency’s oversight of nuclear power plants in an effort to address the widespread instances of leakage of radioactively contaminated water. You get it? Radioactive water from leaking power plants! And the NRC refused to provide additional oversight to make sure the public would remain safe, or at least as safe as they can be, from something so obviously dangerous. The chairman of the NRC, Greg Jaczko, the man who is standing in front of the nuke train to Yucca, was in the minority on that one. He voted to keep Americans safe. The nuke power industry beat the health and safety of Americans.

Follow the money.

On Aug. 9, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster — remember that one earlier this year? — Jaczko approved all 12 recommendations designed to improve nuclear power plant safety across the United States in an effort to avoid the total devastation we witnessed in Japan earlier this year. As of just a few days ago, the NRC has refused to take action on those safety issues, choosing instead to delay and obfuscate. For what reason?

It has gotten so bad that the chairman of an independent advisory committee of safety experts testified on Nov. 29 that, “At the risk of being impertinent, Fukushima happened eight and a half months ago. And with all due respect, all we’ve been doing is talk. Sure, it’s pretty sesquipedalian persiflage but it’s still talk. So, my feeling is we should get on with it.”

I also had to go to the dictionary on that one, but what I didn’t do is fail to understand that it is nuclear power industry money that is driving the debate at the NRC. And it is nuclear power industry money that is driving the GOP-controlled House and even some Democrats in the Senate to want to reopen Yucca Mountain. They refuse to recognize that Las Vegas’ future hangs in the balance.

But for Amodei and Heck? They know better. They know Yucca Mountain ain’t dead yet. So why are they aiding and abetting those who would bury us? Follow the money.

Tell those congressmen to stop talking nonsense and just kill it for good. Or elect someone who will.

Brian Greenspun is president and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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