Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

In Las Vegas debate, Republican candidates offer a welcome surprise on nuclear waste

In their words

A selection of comments the candidates made during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas. The full transcript can be found at CNN's website.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas:

Quite frankly, the government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing any form of energy. And nuclear energy, I think, is a good source of energy, but they still get subsidies. Then they assume this responsibility. Then we as politicians and the bureaucrats get involved in this. And then we get involved with which state’s going to get stuck with the garbage.

So I would say, the more the free market handles this and the more you deal with property rights and no subsidies to any form of energy, the easier this problem would be solved.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:

If Nevada says, “Look, we don’t want it,” then let other states make bids and say, hey, look, we’ll take it. Here’s a geological site that we’ve evaluated. Here’s the compensation we want for taking it. ... Let the free market work. And on that basis, the places that are geologically safe, according to science, and where the people say the deal’s a good one will decide where we put this stuff. That’s the right course for America.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

You know, from time to time, Mitt and I don’t agree. But on this one, he’s hit it, the nail, right on the head. ... and, Congressman Paul, you’re correct when it comes to allowing the states to compete with each other. That is the answer to this.

During the Republican debate Tuesday at the Venetian, the presidential candidates were asked whether they support plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

We weren’t expecting much from the candidates. For years, we’ve heard candidates, supported by the nuclear industry, patronize Nevada on the issue, and Tuesday night it appeared we would hear more of the same. Answering first, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fit the stereotype: He outlined his support of the project, adding that while in Congress, he worked with Nevada lawmakers to provide time for scientific studies.

In other words: He cares about Nevadans’ views but still wants to make the state a nuclear waste dump. George W. Bush said something similar during the 2000 campaign, pledging to make a decision on Yucca Mountain based on “sound science.” But after Bush took office, sound science took a back seat to politics.

Just when we were about to grab the remote control, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, the debate moderator, asked Rep. Ron Paul about his opposition to Yucca Mountain.

“I approach it from a states’ rights position,” Paul said. “What right does 49 states have to punish one state and say, ‘We’re going to put our garbage in your state?’ I think that’s wrong.”

Then former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he agreed with Paul.

“The idea that 49 states can tell Nevada, ‘We want to give you our nuclear waste,’ doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Romney said. “I think the people of Nevada ought to have the final say as to whether they want that.”

Cooper asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry what he thought.

“You know, from time to time, Mitt and I don’t agree,” Perry said. “But on this one, he’s hit it, the nail, right on the head.”

Wow. We didn’t think we’d ever hear one, much less two, Republican front-runners offer support for Nevada’s opposition.

In some ways, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Conservatives over the past few years have trumpeted the 10th Amendment, which guarantees states’ rights, to try to fight against the federal health care law and other federal issues. But their love for states’ rights has stopped at Yucca Mountain.

For decades, Nevadans have been clear that they don’t want the nation’s nuclear waste, and yet the nuclear industry’s supporters in Washington have ignored the state’s wishes and railroaded plans through Congress.

The nuclear industry’s supporters have treated Nevada like a little child, telling the state it knows what is best. They have dismissed the serious safety and scientific issues that plague the plans and make brash claims. For example, during the debate Gingrich said “most geologists” had found Yucca Mountain suitable and “geologically stable.”

But that argument doesn’t stand up. Yucca Mountain isn’t a solid mountain; it’s a porous volcanic ridge in an area prone to earthquakes. And geologists didn’t pick Yucca Mountain. Politicians did.

Congress cut short a scientific search for a nuclear waste dump in the 1980s, choosing Nevada to be the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Why? Nevada’s congressional delegation didn’t have the clout to stop the plans.

The state has continued its opposition, and the Nevada congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has diligently worked to cut funding for the project. After he took office, President Barack Obama brought some common sense to the issue, telling the Energy Department to end its work. However, Republican leaders in Congress have continued to push for the project and made an all-out push to revive the moribund and dangerous project.

We hope they were listening to the debate. Nevadans don’t want it, and some of the leading Republicans running for president say Nevada shouldn’t be forced to take it. Republicans in Congress should see the writing on the wall and drop the plan once and for all.

What do you think? Send your thoughts in a letter — no more than 250 words. Include the writer’s name, address and phone number. Anonymous letters will not be considered. E-mail: letters@lasvegassun.com.

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