Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2019

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Where I Stand:

St. Louis joins in waste worries once reserved for Nevada

Where there is fire, there is a good chance there is nuclear waste.

As if we really need to be reminded that nuclear waste, however it is disposed of, never goes away, the news this past week should make it clear to everyone that some things really are forever.

Nevadans are used to the idea that burying nuclear waste in the Silver State is an obsession with the nuclear industry and its minions in Congress. It isn’t that they don’t care about the 2 million people who live in Southern Nevada less than 100 miles from their dream of burying close to 80,000 tons of the worst poison known to man, but they don’t. Nor do they care about the impact a nuclear accident would have on our tourist industry.

But that is today’s fight. Yesterday’s fight (going back to the 1970s) was about the low-level nuclear dump site a few miles away from Yucca Mountain in Beatty.

This newspaper fought that dump for well over a decade. It was long and difficult but acted as merely a warmup for us to oppose the high-level dump, which still has some life left in it. The Beatty dump finally closed itself to nuclear waste in 1992. The rest of its existence has been given over to caretaking the site.

Last week the headline read, “No air radiation found, ground testing next after fire at Nevada radioactive waste burial site.” It is a long headline but descriptive in that it shows that after decades of not receiving any low-level radioactive material, there is still the potential of great danger.

Who, for example, could have conceived that a fire would break out in or near the trenches that were used to bury the used medical and other nuke-laden waste? And who could have ever dreamed that the people who pushed so hard for the dumpsite — much like those pushing hard for Yucca Mountain today — would be the people most directly concerned today about what kind of personal and health catastrophe that fire could have produced?

I don’t know if you can see my hand in the air, but it is. And so would be the hands of many other Nevadans who knew way back then that nuclear waste is not our friend.

But all of the above is not the real story. People around the country are used to this newspaper and most other Nevadans crying out at the first sign of nuclear disaster. They dismiss us, of course, suggesting we are either unpatriotic or stricken with a “sky-is-falling” disease for which there is no cure.

So here is the rest of this story.

Yes, there is a fire, and yes, it is close to a nuclear waste dump. And yes, the people are concerned about their health and safety. And yes, the federal government and the people who own the dumpsite are saying all is well and there is nothing to worry about. And yes, the attorney general of the state isn’t believing any of that and taking the matter into his own hands to protect the people of his state.

You say that is what Nevada’s AG is supposed to do? You are right.

But, what I have just described isn’t happening in Nevada!

It is happening right now near St. Louis. Here are a few headlines: “Potential ‘Nuclear Fallout’ Imminent As Radioactive Waste Sets to Burn in Missouri & No One Cares”; “St. Louis Plans for Catastrophic Nuclear Event”; “Officials squabble as underground fire burns near radioactive waste dump in St. Louis area.” The list of headlines goes on and on. And so does the fire, which has been burning for five years under a garbage dump, apparently with no end in sight.

But, what is in sight is a nuclear waste dump that contains some really bad stuff, some of it buried close to 80 years ago as a result of the Manhattan Project — the program that gave the world the atom bomb.

The point is that it isn’t Nevada crying wolf and it isn’t the people of Southern Nevada who are in harm’s way if the GOP-controlled Congress has its way and resurrects Yucca Mountain. Right now it is the entire city of St. Louis, most of which probably had no idea the government buried all that radioactive waste so close to humanity, that is beside itself with worry.

To St. Louis I say I am sorry, really sorry, for your troubles. Now you know what we in Nevada have been screaming about for many decades. Let’s not hope another city has to go through the same angst you are going through. Burying nuclear waste near people or any living being has never been a good idea.

Adding radioactive fuel to the fires that burn in or near man-made nuclear garbage dumps is the kind of problem human beings should be smart enough to avoid. But, apparently, that wasn’t the case decades ago in Missouri or Nevada.

In hindsight, we all know we should never have let that happen. A little foresight tells us we should never let it happen again.

Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Sun.

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