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January 16, 2018

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GOP loves a nuke dump

If Republicans gain control of Congress, Yucca Mountain will come alive

House Minority Leader John Boehner this week laid out his economic vision — that is, if one can call it a vision when all you’re doing is embracing the stale, discredited policies advocated by George W. Bush. Just what the country needs (and will get) if Republicans win back control of Congress: more economic policies that led to the Great Recession.

But receiving scant attention were Boehner’s remarks about the Yucca Mountain project, an issue that usually doesn’t receive the national coverage it deserves, but which will get Nevadans to sit up and take notice. A member of the audience at the City Club of Cleveland, where Boehner spoke about the economy, asked him:

“The only repository for nuclear waste planned or conceived or developed in this country is Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and it is stopped dead in its tracks by Harry Reid. If the Republicans can take back Congress, what position would the party take on opening Yucca Mountain so our nuclear reactors have someplace to put their waste?”

Part of Boehner’s response: “Most Republicans have supported Yucca Mountain for the 20 years that I’ve been here, and the American people would be shocked to know how much nuclear waste is lying just miles from their home. It’s lying at every nuclear plant in the country and why? Because we can’t get Yucca Mountain finished because it’s not politically correct. We’ve invested tens of billions of dollars in a storage facility that’s as safe as anything we’re going to find.”

It’s clear that, because of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s leadership on this issue, the federal government’s plan to bury 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada has been stopped for now. Reid’s influence was instrumental in persuading President Barack Obama to withdraw a license to store the waste at Yucca Mountain, just 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The other fact is that, over time, the effort to put a nuclear waste dump in Nevada has become nakedly partisan. Republican congressional leaders and then-President George W. Bush have done everything possible to please the nuclear power industry, which donates heavily to the GOP, to make the Yucca Mountain project a reality. That includes ignoring scientific evidence that shows just how dangerous it would be to transport thousands of shipments cross-country and then bury the waste in a region that’s seismically active.

And while this has been a partisan issue at the national level, for the most part that hasn’t been the case in Nevada, as politicians have been unified in their opposition. But, in recent years, some Nevada Republicans have suggested surrendering. Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle has said nuclear waste should be sent to Nevada. If Angle were to beat Reid, who is Nevada’s best defense against the dump, rest assured that a serious push would be made to bring nuclear waste to Nevada.

Angle and Boehner both talk about recycling nuclear waste, but big questions remain, including its safety and who will pay its prohibitive costs. In contrast, waste left in dry-cask storage where it’s generated would be secure for decades, giving scientists time to find a safer way to dispose of the waste than at Yucca Mountain. But politicians such as Angle and Boehner don’t care one bit about endangering Nevadans by turning this state into the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground.

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