Las Vegas Sun

February 5, 2023

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Sun Editorial:

Editorial: Five reasons why those who support Yucca Mountain are wrong

Latest attempts to rally support for nuclear waste dump are disingenuous


Sam Morris

Atop Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, signs warn of possible radiation near a test well.

The Nye County Commission recently sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu all but begging to make Yucca Mountain a high-level nuclear waste dump. The letter is part of a desperate push by dump supporters and the nuclear energy industry to revive the plans for Yucca Mountain, which has been all but dead since President Barack Obama’s order to shutter the project.

The president’s decision hasn’t stopped the nuclear energy industry and its supporters, who have tried to force the issue over Nevada’s objections for years. Consider the “Screw Nevada” bill in 1987, which bypassed a full scientific selection process to designate Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole nuclear waste dump.

Now, they are trumping up Nevada’s “support” via Nye County, which has long been in the minority for its stance on the dump. And last week, a group called Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy announced a poll purportedly showing that Nevadans don’t want Yucca Mountain closed. The group and others have been pushing to keep Yucca Mountain open as a research park for research and development of nuclear waste reprocessing.

As we have noted, there are problems with the ill-conceived and exorbitantly expensive plans for Yucca Mountain, but here are a few things to consider about the current arguments being made:

    • Nye County supports it

      A farm on Homestead Road displays Pahrump's rural heritage. The majority of Nye County's population lives in Pahrump.

      A farm on Homestead Road displays Pahrump's rural heritage. The majority of Nye County's population lives in Pahrump.

      The president’s blue-ribbon panel on nuclear waste recently recommended the government find places that want nuclear waste instead of forcing it on a state, thus prompting Nye County’s solicitation.

      However, Gov. Brian Sandoval last week wrote to the Energy Department reaffirming Nevada’s opposition, noting that “Nye County cannot and does not speak for the state of Nevada.”

      Indeed. According to the Census Bureau, Nye County has less than 2 percent of the state’s population, and its consent doesn’t mirror the state’s views.

      Consider that since the “Screw Nevada” bill passed, every governor and U.S. senator, positions that require statewide votes, has actively opposed Yucca Mountain.

    • ‘People are for it’

A tunnel inside Yucca Mountain is shown in 1999. The Obama administration announced Friday the formation of a panel to study nuclear waste disposal alternatives.

      So what about this new poll that purportedly shows support for Yucca Mountain? People who responded to the poll were told that Yucca Mountain “is no longer being actively developed to store the waste.” Odd that there’s no mention of the nuclear energy industry’s continued push, isn’t it? Then, people asked if they were in favor of keeping Yucca Mountain open “for the study and potential reprocessing of nuclear waste into usable energy because of the jobs and money such a would bring into the state or close Yucca Mountain altogether to help protect Nevada’s environment.”

      Seriously? That’s like asking, “Are you in favor of jobs or against them?”

      Instead, ask if people want nuclear waste hauled across the nation and tucked into Yucca Mountain, which isn’t really a mountain but a volcanic ridge, and see what they say. In polls over the years, Nevadans have shown their opposition to making the state a nuclear waste dump time and again.

    • Nevada Energy Park

      The nuclear energy industry supporters say the nation shouldn’t let all the money spent on Yucca Mountain go to waste, thus the effort to create an “energy park” for research and development of nuclear waste reprocessing.

      However, reprocessing is already being studied in laboratories elsewhere, and there is no reason to think that scientists would move their labs to a site 100 miles from Las Vegas where the draw would be ... a huge hole in the ground.

      The energy park is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to keep Yucca Mountain open. If there’s research and the potential to reprocess it, that would mean there would need to be nuclear waste on site. Thus, Yucca Mountain becomes a de facto nuclear waste dump.

      Sneaky, isn’t it?

    • ‘We could negotiate for benefits’

      The Energy Department has spent $10 billion over the past 20 years developing Yucca Mountain. Now, the agency is poised to file its 10,000-page license application. A review lasting as long as four years would then be conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

      Some of the dump’s supporters say that Nevada should negotiate with the federal government for benefits in return for taking the waste dump. But who’s going to write the check? The members of Congress pushing this?

      In 2002, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., one of the biggest dump supporters in Congress, called on Nevada to “fulfill (its) nuclear legacy and continue to aid this nation and our citizens” by taking the waste.

      On the floor of the House, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., recently said his state should have the “right” to “be rid of this waste.”

      “Nevada must either rebate the billions of dollars already spent on Yucca Mountain or stand out of the way and allow the facility to open for business,” Duncan said.

      That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to cut a check but someone who would agree with Shimkus that Nevada should do its duty and quiet down.

    • The bottom line

      There has been discussion that there are jobs to be had with Yucca Mountain. There will be jobs during construction, but after that, how many people does it take to baby-sit nuclear waste? And if this is such a good deal for Nevada, wouldn’t the other states — especially those with waste in them — be lining up for these jobs?

      They’re not, and they don’t want to make a deal, either. They want Nevada to take the waste. Period.

      Nevada’s leaders shouldn’t be fooled by any of these disingenuous and manipulative attempts to rally support for Yucca Mountain. The fact remains that Yucca Mountain is bad policy and Nevadans don’t want it. It’s past time for the nation to move on.

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