Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2019

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Jon Ralston on campaign money, Yucca Mountain

If I told you that a company boasting it will provide "a total transportation solution to Yucca Mountain" is a significant donor to a prominent Nevada politician who regularly rails against the dump, you might think I was joking.

If I told you that this same elected official, only a few weeks after accepting the money from this outfit, was pummeling another Nevada pol for his lack of purity on the repository, you might think I was taking the joke too far.

And if I told you this same nuclear-friendly conglomerate had been donating to Nevada politicians for years as they railed against one of its raisons d'etre, you might assume I have a twisted sense of humor.

But it's no laughing matter and, as usual with Yucca Mountain, the joke is on voters who simply lap up the anti-dump rhetoric and pay no attention to the hypocrisy of taking one position in news releases while taking money from those opposed to that position. Hypocrisy, of course, is endemic to a debate that has been characterized by the irreconcilable juxtaposition of "blowing up bombs at the Test Site: good; putting waste near the Test Site: bad."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the latest to show how difficult it is to keep your equilibrium as he bestrides the dump high horse, most recently to assail Gov. Jim Gibbons. Just a few weeks before Reid was pounding the governor for his position on dump water rights and the Democrats were bludgeoning the governor for his obtuse pick for the Commission on Nuclear Projects, the Senate boss was happily accepting $4,000 to his leadership PAC from General Atomics, according to Political MoneyLine, a campaign donation-tracking Web site.

What is General Atomics? The company, a huge defense contractor and nuclear power advocate, essentially brags in a brochure that it can do what Reid and others have argued for years is impossible and is a fundamental underpinning of the argument against Yucca Mountain: General Atomics says it produces casks so high-level nuclear waste can be transported safely.

From the company Web site: "General Atomics (GA) provides advanced design truck and rail casks to meet the needs of the Yucca Mountain transportation program. GA's truck casks can safely carry higher payloads within the legal weight truck limits, and have been designed with versatility allowing them to carry commercial spent nuclear fuel as well as high level radioactive waste forms."

Reid's response? Part of it was expected and as hyperbolic as most of the dump rhetoric.

"You and I both know that it is Sen. Reid who has prevented the dump at Yucca Mountain from being built," a senatorial spokesman said. "Sen. Reid is Nevada's strongest advocate in killing the Yucca Mountain project."

It is inarguable that Reid's leadership position all but ensures the dump will not be built while he occupies that spot. And he has consistently used his leadership post to slash funding for Yucca Mountain.

But Reid, ever the inside player operating in the amoral Beltway confines, has managed to separate his public actions from his campaign fundraising, willing to take money from the likes of General Atomics and once actually hiring a dump lobbyist to raise campaign cash for him.

That moral ambiguity is de rigueur in the political world. And to be fair to Reid, he is not the only Nevada delegation member to accept General Atomics money - he is only the most recent.

Rep. Jon Porter has taken the lucre the last three cycles. And Sen. John Ensign has taken money from General Atomics since 2004 and the company even financed a couple of trips abroad for staffers, including the senator's top aide.

Reid - and surely the others - would point out that General Atomics also builds the Predator drones, which fly out of Creech Air Force Base at Indian Springs. But where do you draw the line? Why not just say no to money from a contractor whose charge - making nuclear waste casks safe - you say cannot be done?

No one would suggest Reid can be bought for four grand or that he will change his public Yucca position because of the donation. That's inane. On the other hand, Reid, as a fundraising behemoth, hardly needs to take checks from General Atomics. That's obvious.

The simplest way to look at it is this: If an opponent of Harry Reid's had taken money from General Atomics and Reid had not, do you think the senator might clamber up on his dump high horse and raise the issue?

Enough said.

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