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May 4, 2015

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Nye County, Sandoval clash over future of Yucca


File photo

Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

CARSON CITY — Despite the tough words earlier this week by Gov. Brian Sandoval, the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump is still alive.

"It's in suspended animation," said Robert Halstead, executive director of the state's Agency for Nuclear Projects.

A hearing is set for May 2 for oral arguments in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to force the federal government to resume its licensing procedures at Yucca Mountain, where work has been suspended.

The suit is being pursued by Aiken County in South Carolina, and Nye County. It asks the court to order the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume its licensing procedures within 30 days of a decision and the regulatory authority to make a decision within 14 months whether to go forward with the project.

Nye County officials told the Legislative Committee on High Level Radioactive Waste Friday they want the Energy Department to start examining the site again to determine if it is safe.

"We don't know if it's safe to operate," Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen. "Just give us the facts."

The Nye County Commission sent a letter to federal officials earlier this month supporting the placement of the nuclear waste repository in its county. And the governor answered, saying Nye County doesn't speak for Nevada.

Halstead said the governor maintains his firm opposition to Yucca Mountain and he added that developing another site could save the federal government $17 billion-$28 billion. There's a misconception by people in other parts of the nation that Yucca Mountain is ready now to accept waste.

But the site would take many more years to fully develop, Halstead said,

Assemblyman Joseph Hogan, D-Las Vegas, who represents a good part of the Strip, says he's concerned about the trucks carrying the spent nuclear waste through Clark County to Yucca Mountain. He said the public must understand the hazards of hauling this dangerous waste through populated areas that not only affects the residents but the tourists.

Halstead said the executives in the nuclear industry are worried about competition from low-priced natural gas. He said the concern in the industry is that natural gas prices won't be increasing in the next few years.

Nye County Commissioner Gary Hollis said he knew Sandoval was right when he said the county doesn't speak for the state. But he added that Sandoval is changing his tune from his election campaign two years ago.

Hollis said Sandoval should talk to the union workers in Las Vegas "who want jobs."

"They believe it can be done safely," he said.

The legislative committee will meet this summer to draw up its recommendations to present to the 2013 Legislature.

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  1. It is very difficult for me to ignore the remarks by Assemblyman Joseph Hogan. Reportedly "he's concerned about the trucks carrying the spent nuclear waste through Clark County to Yucca Mountain. He said the public must understand the hazards of hauling this dangerous waste through populated areas that not only affects the residents but the tourists."

    And there you have it: stop development in rural Nevada because of a very slight risk of an accident that could make gamblers decide to go somewhere else than urban Nevada to lose their wages.

    Does this concern have any merit? No. None. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain said the preferred mode of transport is rail, not truck, plus the Department of Transportation rules say the State can designate the transportation routes.

    In addition, a 2002 study by a panel of the National Academies of Engineering said the shipment of spent fuel by rail is about 100,0000 less likely to cause a public fatality than shipments of chemicals routinely sent through the county on their way to California's chemical plants. So this is simply baseless fear-mongering.

    On the way to rural Nevada, these materials would be shipped through several very large cities. What makes Las Vegas/Clark County deserve more protection that they do? Oh, right, the perception of a CHANCE of a RISK on the part of gamblers? If gamblers paid the least attention to what the odds are, they wouldn't gamble.

    Las Vegas grew up when nearly 1,000 nuclear bombs were being set off at about the same distance from Las Vegas, so why the sensitivity to a boring project, a project with no moving parts, that can't explode, that involves placing waste 1,000 feet under hard rock? Because someone is making sure the people stay scared.

    Yucca would have been safe as proposed. The only sound argument against it is the cost, as mentioned in the article.

    Does the State have the right to squelch the aspirations of its rural counties? Well, probably, and at least this time the fight is out in the open.

    Previously, the State formed Bullfrog County on top of Yucca Mountain so that federal payments to Nye County would be siphoned off into state coffers instead. The state courts struck that one down. The state courts also stopped the state from removing several newly elected officials in Lincoln County because they were for Yucca Mountain. The state does not play nice! Poor Nye.