Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The potent combination of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bodes well for Nevadans, the majority of whom don’t want the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dumped in this state. Both men have vowed to do everything in their power to see that a dump is never built at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
But until it is certain the dump plan is dead, Nevada has an obligation to its residents to continue fighting, through its Nuclear Projects Agency, the nuclear power industry-backed proposal. Because of the highly complex nature of the issue, it takes a fully staffed office to help research and prepare the state’s arguments against a Yucca repository, which is under licensing review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This is not the time to reduce the agency’s staff, but that is precisely what Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed. As reporter Phoebe Sweet wrote last week in the Las Vegas Sun, a sister publication of In Business Las Vegas, Gibbons is seeking to eliminate five of the agency’s seven positions. While using the state budget crisis as cover, he is also proposing lower-than-necessary levels of money over the next two years for the agency’s outside contracts and for legal counsel through the attorney general’s office. Doing so would make it difficult for Nevada to wage a serious fight.
The agency serves a crucial role by monitoring the Energy Department’s activities at Yucca Mountain, coordinating state and local reviews of technical and planning documents, conducting independent reviews of the hydrological, geological and engineering aspects of the proposed dump, and identifying health, safety and environmental issues. That effort should be bolstered by a solid legal team, which the attorney general’s office thinks would require $5 million over the next two years, far more than the $186,000 proposed by Gibbons.
As former Sen. Richard Bryan, who also served as Nevada’s governor and now heads the Nevada Nuclear Projects Commission, told Sweet: “This is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. This is at a very critical stage, and Nevada has to be fully prepared.”
We couldn’t agree more.