Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2017

Currently: 56° — Complete forecast

Where I Stand:

Reid will be gone, but state’s fight against Yucca Mountain nukes must continue

Click to enlarge photo

Brian Greenspun

Whew! For a moment I was worried.

Actually, I have been worried about the nuclear power industry’s demand of Congress that it shove the nation’s high-level nuclear waste down Nevada’s Yucca Mountain for 30 years or more. Or should I say up our Yucca Mountain?

For most Nevadans — there are always a few who either don’t comprehend the consequences of such a decision or just don’t care — the idea that we would be forced to accept the deadliest material known to man just a few miles from the heart of Las Vegas in incomprehensible. And, yet, it is true.

The aptly named “Screw Nevada Bill” which Congress passed in the 1980s made Nevada the only choice for the nation’s nuke garbage. It was a 100 percent political decision mostly because the better sites in the country — Texas and Louisiana — were represented by powerful political interests and Nevada, well, Nevada wasn’t! We were a small state with an even smaller population and, therefore, easy prey for an industry full of lobbyists and cash and a desire by elected officials to “get this matter” off their plates.

That was 30 years ago.

Fortunately, we had a united Nevada and an entire congressional delegation — as small as it was back then — that was determined to fight against all odds. And we had an up-and-coming political leader named Harry Reid who, together with then-governor Richard Bryan, was determined to lead the fight.

Fast forward to 2016 and it is fair to say that Nevada’s senior U.S. senator has managed to hold the rest of the United States Congress and its puppet masters in the nuclear power industry at bay. I would say it has been a fair fight!

But Harry is retiring at the beginning of 2017. A Republican Congress and a Republican White House — those are the folks who have been doing the nuke industry’s bidding with an assist from some Democrats no doubt — will take over the reins of political power in January and, as predicted, the zombie known as Yucca Mountain is rising from the dead.

Calls for reviving Yucca Mountain are deafening back in Washington and that requires, once again, a call to arms in Nevada. Except now, we are not so well armed.

We have one congressman from Northern Nevada who thinks it might be a good idea to talk about foisting Yucca Mountain on the 2 million residents of Clark County and the 42 million tourists who will visit the Silver State on an annual basis. That, by the way, is all Nevada’s enemies needed to hear — a break in what was an unbreakable defensive wall.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new 158,000 square-foot Federal Justice Tower at 501 Las Vegas Blvd. South in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. The new building houses the executive offices of multiple components of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including Homeland Security Investigations, Enforcement and Removal Operations and the agency's Office of the Chief Counsel; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada; the Federal Protective Service; and the Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General.

And, while the good news for Nevada is that we will have a fighter in U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus as well as newly-elected Reps. Reuben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen, the fact remains that they are new and in the party out of power. And none of them, yet, is Harry Reid.

There is one ray of sunshine in Washington. Our new senior U.S. senator, Dean Heller, is an opponent of Yucca Mountain, and he is a Republican. He has been a senator long enough to know the rules and know his colleagues. That puts him in an ideal place to stop this insanity. He can do to the Congress what Harry was able to accomplish through hard work, skill and a determination to do whatever it takes to kill Yucca Mountain forever. And, while we will all support Dean in his efforts, he may fall short.

So, Nevada will need help if we are to avoid what could be a worse economic catastrophe than what happened to us with the crash in 2008. By all accounts, if just one accident occurs in the 25 years of trucks and trainloads of nuclear waste that will travel our highways and rail lines into Nevada, the result will make the recession of just a few years ago look like a pillow fight.

The reports are out there. Read them.

So here is the good news. This past week, President-elect Donald Trump announced the Presidential Inaugural Committee for his inauguration in January. On it are 20 of the nation’s top financial entrepreneurs and Trump supporters — people close to the president-elect who will have his ear, not just because they are helping to pay for his inauguration party but because they are friends.

Twenty percent of the list of President-elect Trump’s top supporters and friends are — wait for it — from Las Vegas! And one of them has been as vocal and meaningful an opponent of Yucca Mountain for the past three decades as anyone in the entire state.

Dr. Miriam Adelson and her husband, Sheldon, are on the committee. A longtime friend of Trump’s, Phil Ruffin, is on the committee. And Steve Wynn, who understood the dangers posed by Yucca Mountain since the plan was first foisted upon us a generation ago, is on the committee.

And each of those folks is a major owner of some of the best properties on the Las Vegas Strip, representing thousands of rooms and many more thousands of employees — the people who live and work here, whose children go to school here and whose families will be most directly affected when Yucca Mountain opens or even threatens to open.

I am not suggesting that these good citizens of Nevada will be as effective against the nuke lobby as Harry Reid has been throughout his career, but I am saying that their motivation should be just as strong. Their families live here too!

And so do their businesses. Surely they can talk to their businessman friend in the White House in a language he will not only understand but will agree with. Yucca Mountain is bad for business, bad for people’s health and bad for anyone who owns a hotel in this state. Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn’t there a Trump Hotel on the Strip?

So rest a bit easier Nevada. Yucca Mountain is stirring but so, too, are the new champions of our fight. I can’t imagine four more formidable adversaries of those who would bury Las Vegas beneath the nuclear waste of others.

Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Sun

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