Las Vegas Sun

June 21, 2018

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Leaders should fight to leave door shut on Yucca Mountain


Steve Marcus

A view of Yucca Mountain, center, as seen from Amagosa Valley town offices Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015.

Storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is a horrible idea regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

To his credit, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval recognizes that and has announced he would continue to oppose the project after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

That’s great for Nevada, because it appears the state may be in for a renewed fight to keep the catastrophe of a project out of Las Vegas’ backyard.

With Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama both on their way out of office, proponents are seeing an opening. Bloomberg News, citing unidentified sources, reported that the Trump camp was actively discussing efforts to revive the project.

Those discussions need to end. Right now.

The Yucca Mountain plan should be thrown on the scrap heap of historically bad ideas, like above-ground hydrogen bomb testing and nuclear-powered aircraft.

The science behind it is anything but conclusive, as proven by studies showing it’s flawed in terms of geology, chemistry and physics. Anyone who believes engineers have created a foolproof containment system is kidding themselves, given the complexities of storing waste for thousands of years amid the moisture in the mountain’s interior without leaking into the groundwater.

Then there are the inherent dangers of transporting tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste across the country to a single repository. Think of the risks posed by a terrorist attack or an accident involving a container.

Nowhere would the jeopardy be greater than Southern Nevada.

A 2001 study by Clark County showed that property values in the Las Vegas Valley would drop 30 percent if the government began regularly transporting nuclear waste through the area, which stands to reason. A heightened risk of being irradiated isn’t exactly something that sends property buyers running to their lenders.

And that’s if there were no accident, meaning that merely opening the site and starting shipments would have roughly the same effect on the Las Vegas economy as the recession did. If an accident involving a radiation leak were to occur, the study said, the aftermath would be catastrophic. Beyond immediate injuries or deaths, there would be billions in long-term losses due to population outflow and damage to Las Vegas’ attraction to tourists.

The fact is that Yucca Mountain is an unacceptable risk, and no election is going to make it any less of a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Here’s hoping that Trump’s ties to Strip resort CEOs such as Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn and Phil Ruffin will be beneficial for Nevada on the project, because surely those community leaders realize the state should fight tooth and nail to keep it from moving forward.

A definite benefit for Nevada is that voters elected several people to Congress who’ve vowed to oppose the project, including Catherine Cortez Masto to the Senate, and Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen to the House. Kihuen’s victory over Rep. Cresent Hardy was particularly important, considering Hardy had suggested Nevada should participate in negotiations on the site in case the project is resurrected.

There should be no discussion that would open the door to Yucca Mountain.

Sandoval and others who have committed to keeping it closed deserve all the support they can get.

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