Las Vegas Sun

April 25, 2019

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Sun Editorial:

Northern Nevada chamber wrong not to join Yucca Mountain fight


Isaac Brekken / AP

In this April 13, 2006, file photo, an underground train at the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce didn’t just let an enemy get through the perimeter, it opened the gate and laid out a red carpet.

Inviting Illinois Congressman John Shimkus to give a presentation on Yucca Mountain last week was a middle finger to Southern Nevada and an affront to the entire state.

Shimkus is the dark force behind a bill that would jump-start the process to turn the mountain into the nation’s dumpsite for high-level nuclear waste.

If it passes — and there’s good chance it will, given that the bill sailed out of committee on a 49-4 vote — Nevada’s fight against this nightmarish project will get tougher.

Yet there was the Reno-Sparks chamber giving Shimkus a platform to pitch his bill, which could spell disaster for Las Vegas and, in turn, for the entire state economy.

Then, afterward, there was the chamber saying it had no official position on Yucca Mountain.

This is a betrayal of every resident in the state. And if those in the audience fell for Shimkus’ argument, it could be about as self-destructive as it gets.

Psst, chamber members: Yes, Yucca Mountain is hundreds of miles away from your city, but if the release of radioactive material either there or in transit would cause a disaster in Las Vegas, the economic consequences for the entire state could be crippling. Given that Las Vegas drives the state economy and provides the lion’s share of revenue to operate the state government, you’d be wise to join the state’s leadership in opposing the project and never again give Shimkus or any other proponent a chance to make their sales pitch.

It would be one thing if Shimkus, the nuclear energy industry’s puppet, had been facing a hostile environment in Reno. But his appearance was presented as a members-only event, and a chamber official said the purpose was to share information and engage in dialogue.

Dialogue? There’s no need for any conversation with Shimkus beyond Nevadans telling him to take his bill and cram it.

The project is a threat of epic proportions. It involves trucking high-level nuclear waste not only through the heart of Las Vegas, which lies 90 miles southeast of the site, but over 22,000 miles of railways and 7,000 miles of highways crossing 44 states and the lands of at least 30 Native American tribes. And keep in mind, this stuff is so nasty that 10 years after being removed from a reactor, it would take less than 70 seconds to emit a fatal level of radiation to an unshielded person standing nearby.

The possibility of an accident or a terrorist attack alone involving waste in transit makes the project a nightmare. Throw in the potential for radioactivity to be released into the air or groundwater at the site — due to seismic activity or some other problem — and there’s no need to talk about it.

The nine rural Nevada counties that have advocated for the licensing process to go forward are shortsighted and wrong-headed. The economic development they might enjoy from the repository pales in comparison to the risks the project poses to the state’s economy if an accident were to drive out Las Vegas residents and create a chilling effect on the city’s tourist economy.

But at least Nye County, which is home to the site, and nearby counties can make a remotely noble claim for opening the door to discussion — namely, that it would create jobs and possible research and development opportunities. What could possibly be the Reno-Sparks chamber’s justification for not opposing the project?

The good news for Southern Nevada is that the Las Vegas Metro Chamber is firmly opposed to the project, and that Shimkus’ bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate, where Nevada Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto have expressed opposition to Yucca Mountain. State leaders also have formed a solid wall against the project.

But it would be nice for Southern Nevada not to have to fight the Reno-Sparks chamber along with Shimkus and everyone else who wants to turn the region into the nation’s nuclear dump.

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