Las Vegas Sun

October 27, 2021

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Readers sound off on Yucca Mountain


John Locher / AP

This photo shows the south portal of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump near Mercury.

In conjunction with a legislative committee hearing in late April on the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository, the Las Vegas Sun invited locals to make their opinions heard on the project.

More than 150 people responded, with those opposing the project outnumbering supporters by a roughly 2-to-1 margin.

This week, the Sun will publish representative responses. In some cases, the letters have been edited for brevity and clarity.

We thank all readers who voiced their opinions on the controversial topic.

• • •

One accident would cause lasting harm

I am appalled that this subject just won’t die. We are a state — maybe the only one — that does not reap any benefits from a nuclear power plant.

Clark County and Las Vegas are adding more residents daily, bringing new business, new jobs, and major sports teams to our area. In addition to worrying about possible leakage, contamination, and earthquake damage, the material is subject to major accidents while traveling to get to Yucca. Our major highways, U.S. 95 and Interstate 15, run dangerously close to the Strip, downtown and North Las Vegas, including many residential areas.

As our tourism industry brings in most of the state’s revenues, any accident or leakage would put a halt to visitors and our economy for years to come. Why would any visitor take the chance to visit here and risk long-term health damages?

I moved to North Las Vegas 21 years ago; prior to that I was a lifelong resident of Kenosha, Wis., just across the border from Illinois. We had several power plants in our area, including the Zion Nuclear Power plant. All have since been shut down due to pollution and health concerns.

What makes our Republican elected leaders think there are no dangers here?

Any issue would be felt for years, if not decades. It’s not like a hurricane, whose effects can be repaired in days, months or years. The efforts to keep trying to open the Yucca Mountain project are unconscionable and I urge our leaders to use every tool available to keep fighting to end this immoral quest. The millions of dollars spent to resurrect Yucca over the years could surely be used for better purposes.

Sandra Pavlik, North Las Vegas

• • •

Arguments for the dump site fall flat

Storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain would be far from bringing in any kind of modernization to the nuclear storage program, but rather another land-dump in the guise of underground storage.

If approved, we could find ourselves having made a mistake that is unresolvable and stuck with something we don’t want. The proponents for opening the dump site cannot guarantee nothing will happen, because who knows what will happen in the future? And as far as creating jobs, this remains unconvincing given that technology is forever eliminating jobs.

Last but not least: Hard, physical science denotes nuclear waste is dangerous .

This is a Trojan horse the state does not need. Let it go elsewhere.

Jim O’Gara, Las Vegas

• • •

Fear is being stoked for benefit of casinos

Nuclear waste is being stored on-site at nuclear power plants. How can people think that nuclear fuel rods in cement casks or ‘swimming pools’ is OK, but being placed in the middle of a mountain in the middle of a desert is not? How can people be afraid of transporting nuclear fuel rods via rail, but it is OK to have tankers of chlorine gas go through our city?

These nuclear transport trains are not going to go through major cities. And if there is an accident (although there hasn’t been any with transporting the fuel rods to the nuclear sites) it is not going to spill or blow up. The casks are engineered to resist splitting open under the most extreme environments. If something should happen, bring in a front loader, scoop the cask up and reload it on another train/truck. It is not going to spew radiation.

A nuclear waste repository needs to be remote, secure and dry. This describes Yucca Mountain. The only thing I don’t like is the idea of burying it and walking away. I feel that it should be a monitored site and the government should invest in nuclear research. UNLV and UNR should be funded to create a world-class research center on all things nuclear. Have this be part of the deal.

The jobs and education that could be created in our state is very much needed. If the tourist industry is so scared, quit talking about it. Or describe it as being 100 miles away — most tourists would consider that distance safe. The people in the rural counties are not afraid of having this site open and running. And it is literally in their backyards. It is people in Reno and Las Vegas who are so afraid.

Why are we fighting this? Oh yeah, a well-educated populace would not gamble or take the service jobs that the casino industry has to offer. And remember, casinos are popping up all over the country. It is a mistake to have Nevada put all of its eggs in one basket. Now is the time to decide to do something for someone other than wealthy casino executives.

Jenelle Hopkins, Las Vegas

• • •

Nuclear storage safer than it’s portrayed

Having worked for an electric utility that had a nuclear power plant, I have some basic knowledge of reactors and their production of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste consists of several products of fission that have variable half-lives and power levels.

Those products that have very powerful radiation levels, like gamma, have very short half-lives and therefore decay rapidly; conversely, those at lower levels, like alpha and beta, have longer half-lives. Consequently, shielding those long-life byproducts is relatively easy.

Regardless, these byproducts have for decades been safely stored onsite at the power plants that produced them. Some of these plants are relatively near population centers, as compared to the remote Yucca Mountain location. Further, these byproducts are valuable and should be kept accessible for reprocessing, should we ever want to do so, like much of Europe does. We should not bury them and risk corrosion of the containers, but store them in such a way that they can be monitored.

Corwin Bemis, Mesquite

• • •

There are better sites for this project

Most people in LasVegas do not want or need Yucca Mountain to open. We have the Raiders coming to our city and the possibilities of new transportation systems. How many people would travel to our city knowing a radiation dump is only 95 miles away?

Last year, Rick Perry said Texas had some areas that could be considered. Texas is large enough and would have more available routes by rail. It is time that another site be assigned.

I have been a resident since 1984 and seen this city expand. We have more schools, university projects, cultural events, etc., that have put LasVegas on the map for new residents and tourists.

Please let’s not push Yucca Mountain; too much money has already been wasted.

Carol Cravens, Henderson

• • •

Don’t be swayed by emotional arguments

As a Pahrump resident with Yucca Mountain being less than 60 miles from my back patio, I support the revival of funding for completing the assessment of the site for storage and ongoing monitoring of spent nuclear power plant fuel rods.

With my engineering background, I served as a community representative on Nye County’s Yucca Mountain Advisory Committee. I worked with an extremely competent group of geologists, hydrologists and physicist consultants as the site was built and shipping and operational issues were considered. Bottom line is that Yucca Mountain can be operated safely as a monitored repository. Let’s update and complete the assessment and make a final decision on its use based on science and facts.

One must look at who is behind the opposition to it: the gaming industry — the same group that keeps Nevadans from having a state lottery. The opposition raises emotional issues against Yucca Mountain with little basis in reality in order to spread fear among the average public.

But now, it’s time for rational decisions to be made.

Walt Kuver, Pahrump

• • •

Nevadans’ wishes must be respected

My husband and I are small-business owners, and we firmly oppose the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

First, it is egregious and blatantly unfair for the federal government to overrule the majority opinion of Nevada citizens ever since the decision to store waste here was railroaded through in 1987. Let the states that actually use nuclear energy bargain with those jurisdictions that are in favor of storage in their neighborhood. We’re not against nuclear energy use per se, just being forced to store it here against local wishes.

Second, this is the third-most seismically active state in the U.S., a clear natural deterrent.

Third, politics seems to be trumping science. For instance, we once read an article touting storage casks that would be lined in titanium. Then we read another article claiming that not nearly enough titanium was in existence to accomplish this.

Fourth, the Las Vegas area is heavily dependent on tourism. Imagine the devastating consequences in the event of a nuclear accident or terrorism at the site or roads traveled to get to Yucca Mountain.

We’ll leave it at that, but there are many more arguments against this insane plan.

Andy and Phyllis Anderson, Las Vegas

• • •

Security of transports can’t be guaranteed

I am totally against opening Yucca Mountain to nuclear waste. My fear is not so much about it being in the mountain but about transporting it to the mountain. The number of accidents that happen with trains being derailed or cars and trucks stalling on the tracks is just a minor bit of my fear. What about the crazies who deliberately attack the transports?

I don’t for one minute believe in the security of these transports. If hackers can get into some of the most secure computers in the world, they will find a way to know when these shipments are being made. They then decide to derail, blow them up, etc. What do we innocent people do when that radiation escapes into the air and gets into our neighborhoods? How many people will you find burned? Dead?

These shipments must stay where they are. Bury the waste where it is.

Mary Moebs, Henderson

• • •

Consolidation risks health of the planet

The human race can be so destructive. There has been a war going on somewhere on this planet during every one of my 65 years. Weapons have become so accurate, and their destructive effects are 1,000 times greater than the largest bomb dropped on Japan.

One of these nuclear bombs dropped on top of the nuclear storage chamber would most certainly expose the nuclear waste to water. It would only take one person to place a nuclear bomb inside one of the storage casks to sabotage all of the Western United States.

Americans are selling trade secrets, bomb secrets and military secrets to the highest bidder, so there is a likely chance that someone will sell critically damaging information or allow the theft and replacement of a storage cask bomb.

Despite all of the planned safeguards, human error suggests that the storage chamber would eventually crack open enough for water to penetrate. Human error in the creation, inspection and transportation of thousands of nuclear storage casks will lead to some casks containing liquid by accident, some sabotaged and other unforeseen disasters, because we cannot safeguard anything for hundreds of thousands of years. Our entire planet is in danger if this nuclear waste is concentrated at one location.

Greg Campbell, Las Vegas

• • •

Find a better home for nuclear waste

The main reasons why no nuclear waste should be stored in Yucca Mountain are:

• There is no such thing is low-energy nuclear waste: it continues to emit heat for years and years.

• Yucca Mountain has an underground water stream, which we will eventually need as Lake Mead continues to decline.

• Yucca Mountain is only one hour away from Las Vegas. With over 42 million tourists a year, this is an accident waiting to happen.

Where could the waste go? Carlsbad, N.M., has over 500 miles of salt caves. It has been receiving some states’ nuclear waste and has built up its highways and roads to accept this.

What is the holdup in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. The majority of Nevadans don’t want nuclear waste stored at Yucca Mountain. Those who do are those who actually think we will get some type of benefit.

Michelle Bracey, Henderson

• • •

Make use of sites that are already toxic

Being a native Nevadan and having a couple of brothers who have worked for Defense Department contractors raises a couple questions in my mind about the viability and efficacy of developing Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage site.

One of my brothers is in favor of bringing waste to Yucca Mountain; he talks about the funding and the physical support that would come from the government. I am not so sure, given the incidents unfolding at the Hanford Site in Washington state. If there could be a guarantee that the storage site would be safe for multiple generations and a huge security deposit set up for potential failures, I might consider the possibility of approval.

Other thoughts I have on setting up such a toxic storage area center around other already toxic areas — Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, Hanford or perhaps stuffing the waste down the glass-lined holes created in the underground tests of the ’50s and ’60s.

JD Smith, Las Vegas

• • •

Too many things can go wrong

You can’t stockpile nuclear waste so close to a major city with 2 million residents and 40 million visitors without considering everyone’s concerns. It sure sounds convenient for the government to dump it all in one place in the desert and then announce that everything’s safe. But so much can go wrong at this location that it makes no sense to risk it.

A major earthquake, contamination seeping into the groundwater or air, accidents, theft, and a number of other unforeseen dangers are possible. Who knows, all those tons of nuclear fuel rods in one spot might inspire some knucklehead to ram it with a hijacked 747. And since I live about 80 miles away from Yucca Mountain, what will the winds bring to my tomato garden? What will my grandson (and even his grandson) be breathing when I take him four-wheeling in the sands nearby? I won’t even go into all the transportation issues.

Of course, we’re far advanced from the early days of nuclear technology, but I can’t help but think of those people in nearby St. George, Utah, who took the brunt of nuclear contamination from these same winds and started dying of cancer and leukemia. Nuclear waste storage is not the same as nuclear testing, but since nobody can say with 100 percent assurance that there won’t be a future problem, be it from natural causes or man-made, let’s not dump America’s nuclear waste in my backyard. Surely you can find a better solution, maybe even recycle the stuff and leave it where it’s made.

Bill Chaison, Las Vegas

• • •

Jobs aren’t worth the consequences

When I retired here in ’95, it was what I would call deserted, coming from the Chicago area. There was very little traffic or construction, and no measurement for allergy or dust count.

Now, it’s a different story. With the influx of people, cars and construction, it’s horrible. And Yucca Mountain? Please. A killer by any imagination. There’s not a decent word in my vocabulary to put on the person who would approve legislation for this.

Plus, all this nuclear waste would be transported through the city streets. There are more “no rules of the road,” “no driver’s license,” “no insurance” drivers in Nevada than any other state.

How long do you think these jobs would last? How many cancer patients would die from these jobs that these politicians have brought to Nevada?

Don’t let another “Trumper” (I’m not there, I don’t care) rule in this matter. Let the coming generations breathe as much clean air as possible.

Claudia Bracey, Henderson

• • •

You take your trash and we’ll takes ours

Not only no but hell no. Las Vegas is not a dump for other states. This is our home.

Other states accuse Nevada of being a NIMBY and unpatriotic. I say if they’re so patriotic, let’s dump their radioactive trash in their backyards and see who the NIMBY is.

In fact, may I propose that Illinois be designated as the nation’s official nuclear waste repository?

Glenn Rodillon, Las Vegas

• • •

Nevada can learn from Hanford

After reading about what is happening in Washington state at Hanford Site, I am very much against having nuclear waste passing through our state.

This nuclear waste supposedly would be safe to pass through, but I expect the people in Washington thought the waste at Hanford was being safely processed as well.

Who can promise that those people so anxious to get the waste out of their area will be diligent in processing it so those in our state do not get radiated? We do not need to take this chance.

Brenda Morrow, Las Vegas

• • •

Decision must not be made hastily

For something that portends so much for us and future generations, my only comment is that this needs much more analysis and exposure.

In the context of today’s national politics and the current administration’s apparent attitude of trading off the environment for financial expedience, it raises the need for such study.

Ken Welton, St. George, Utah

• • •

Transportation is the biggest concern

I was on nuclear submarines for six years, enclosed in a cylindrical tube submerged in the ocean for months at a time, living in close proximity with a nuclear reactor. With that experience, I’m not at all concerned about living 100 miles away from nuclear waste buried in a mountain. I have confidence that our scientists and engineers can devise ways of storing the nuclear waste safely.

Transporting the waste to the mountain is another matter. If I knew of nuclear waste being transported near my city, this would concern me. The nuclear waste should be transported in such a way that it doesn’t expose large population areas to the possibility of nuclear radiation in case of an accident.

If I were in charge, I would say, “Sure, we’ll store your nuclear waste, but it’s going to cost you.” Nevadans should be compensated in some manner for assuming the risk. Further, a safe means of transporting the waste should be devised.

Roger Witcher, Las Vegas

• • •

What happens years into the future?

It isn’t if an accident or leak occurs, it is when it will occur.

Since the Chernobyl disaster, there have been 56 nuclear-related accidents in the United States. Recently there has been an accident at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state and, before that, in 2014 in New Mexico.

The Hanford Nuclear Site was used to develop plutonium and related nuclear material during World War II. After the war, cataloging on drums, storage tanks, etc., took place, but over the years, records were lost or incomplete. The Energy Department has been attempting to clean up Hanford since the 1980s but has not been able to complete the task, even though tanks are now leaking, drums are leaking and nuclear material has even contaminated workers and their vehicles.

Consider this: If nuclear waste is stored at Yucca Mountain for 30,000 years, databases kept on the material will no longer exist in today’s format, if at all. Computer programs will change and Yucca will become another Hanford.

Nuclear material eats away at the containers in which it is stored, meaning leaks will occur, which could contaminate the ground water and the entire site.

In a hundred years, the signs will have fallen down or faded away. The government won’t have the money to continue to care for the site, so it may just lock the doors and walk away. Then, since no one is around to remember this site, someone will open the doors and most likely die and expose the total area to radiation.

Any jobs that Yucca creates will only last until the tunnel is full, which won’t take long since there is enough to fill it right now.

Mark Trexler, Las Vegas

• • •

Evidence has shown project site is safe

The Yucca Mountain project is essential for Nevada. The project will bring thousands of professional-grade workers to the site. Moreover, Nye County, which can’t even keep a hospital going, will reap rewards for years.

The area has been studied for years. There is clear evidence that the site for the long-term storage is ideal.

What is so good about storing the fuel waste above ground, anyway?

Richard Twiddy, Mesquite

• • •

Repository site not picked scientifically

The basic issue is Yucca Mountain is sited in the wrong rock, and high-level waste has changed so much since the 1970s that it is no longer high-level except in name.

I was one of the original authors of the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and for 35 years I have worked on Yucca Mountain, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., and most of the international nuclear waste programs. The whole point of deep geologic disposal is the geology. We picked the best place 60 years ago, the Salado Salt formation in New Mexico and Texas, but it got political in the 1970s.

The Topopah Springs tuff at Yucca Mountain was the worst rock formation we studied: a dual-porosity, variably saturated, highly fractured, oxidizing geohydrologic system. Because of this, the rock can provide almost none of the properties needed for the successful performance of the repository. So we had to add several engineered barriers and other characteristics that sent the cost from about $30 billion to $300 billion, including the costs of preparation at the generator sites like Hanford. The correct rock needs only about $30 billion.

But Yucca Mountain was chosen for political reasons. The problem now is that those reasons are now irrelevant and few remember them.

Yucca Mountain is the textbook case of the intersection of science and society, where politics, history and economics are as important as science, but where science should be the ultimate decider.

Dr. James Conca, Richland, Wash.

• • •

Why not improve on others’ innovations?

When the “Screw Nevada Bill” was passed, it was a bad deal. Today, it is even worse as the movement of waste over land is too exposed to possible sabotage.

Does France recycle its waste? Why can’t the president get the know-how from his good buddy, French President Emmanuel Macron?

Does any country using atoms for power have a disposal method? Let’s get some data on what the others users are doing and do it better. Just a thought.

Bob Hartman, Las Vegas

• • •

Put the nation’s interests first

I vote in favor of the Yucca Mountain repository. It is the best place in the country to store nuclear waste. Other sites are major accidents waiting to happen. Nevada should do what’s best for the country, not itself. Besides, the state would benefit tremendously from a financial viewpoint. Charge what you want.

Mark John, Las Vegas

• • •

In long run, there are too many risks

This is such an example of politics winning out over science. I personally visited the site in the early ’90s, and looking out at all those “extinct” volcano cones struck me as a horrible place to store such volatile material. No one can predict or guarantee such long-term storage, Nevada should not have to shoulder such a burden.

Cynthia Anderson, Las Vegas

• • •

The issue has long been decided

Yucca Mountain would be a repository for nuclear waste, not a “dump.” Waste would be contained in highly engineered canisters and emplaced in mined tunnels thousand feet below the ground surface.

Waste being transported to a repository cannot simply be spilled, because it is solid — a combination of metal, glass and ceramics. In addition, waste would be transported in containers designed to withstand severe accidents. Although transportation of high-level nuclear waste is not risk-free, the risk is comparable to that of transporting many other hazardous materials that are shipped routinely.

The alternative to transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain or another repository location is to safeguard waste at more a hundred different sites, forever. The U.S. has formally evaluated options for disposing high-level nuclear waste several times and, each time, has identified deep geologic disposal as the best option.

Jerry King, North Las Vegas

• • •

Many supporters are keeping quiet

I support the project fully and so does everyone I know. We are like a silent majority that does not speak up.

David Dwyer, Las Vegas

• • •

Project makes Las Vegas less safe

We strongly oppose the use of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste depository for the following reasons:

• The site is flawed and nuclear waste can and will leach into ground water.

• Any earth movement (small earthquakes) can and will increase Yucca Mountain’s instability. Small earthquakes are inevitable.

• Nuclear leakage would make around-the-world headlines that would result in dramatically decreased tourism – Las Vegas’ lifeblood.

• Spillage cannot be cleaned up easily and would create a toxic environment in the valley for years to come. It would make living in Las Vegas impossible.

• Trucking toxic waste from one point to another is an accident waiting to happen. It would threaten not only Las Vegas and the environment, but other cities through which the trucks must pass.

If Yucca is reopened, we will seek another, safer place to live. We think others will do the same.

Caroline and John Orzes, Henderson

• • •

Too many questions remain unanswered

As a physician, the concept of storing nuclear waste near an area where the population is constantly expanding and is recognized as drastically short of doctors is insane.

Do we have medical resources such as facilities and medical personnel to deal with what would be a disaster of enormous magnitude? I think not.

Nevada is located on or near historically well-recognized areas of seismic activity. Surely there must be a better solution.

We also don’t know what effects previous and current contributions we have made as a state, such as allowing nuclear testing in the 1950s and whatever goes on at military/government facilities for many years up to now, could have on us as a populace.

Dr. Jesse Sherrod, Las Vegas

• • •

Too much time has already been wasted

Having visited the proposed area within the past month on a tour with American Association of University Women, courtesy of the Atomic Testing Museum, I see no reason why we should not get this site up and running.

1. It is an established facility.

2. There is absolutely nothing out there and it sits on thousands of feet of river gravel, not unstable layers of rocks.

3. There will never be large-scale development around that area and reopening more of this facility would be a bonus for the people who live nearby.

4. We are way behind on getting this started as a country.

5. How do we safely get the waste there? Military transports. There is an airstrip already in place. Our technology has progressed to the point that we should have very little trouble moving and storing the waste in this fashion.

Let’s get moving. The clock is ticking and a lot of waste material needs to be repackaged and put in a safer place.

Alice Hoelzer, Las Vegas

• • •

Take the waste, and much more

Ever since this started years ago, I have always held the opinion that you can’t fight City Hall. There are 48 other states that don’t want this dump and found a place in Nevada. We are going to get this shoved down our throats no matter what we do legally. Therefore, we should shove back at the federal government. Here is what I propose we ask for:

• Return all BLM lands back to Nevada control.

• Increased water rights from the Colorado River.

• A yearly bonus check of $10,000 per person residing in Nevada for the past 20 years, fashioned after Alaska’s federal pipeline payments. Use tax filings as proof.

• No federal income tax for people living in Nevada for the past 25 years, continuously.

These may seem like extraordinarily high terms, but if you don’t ask for the moon, you’ll end up with very little. I have no problem with Yucca being use for the dump. It is impossible to show that there won’t be any problems for 10,000 years as it was proposed. But from what I read and saw, I believe they have done enough.

Mike Welter, Las Vegas

• • •

No innovations come without risk

In my freshman engineering class, the instructor held something up and asked if it was round. It looked round, but the instructor said, probably it was not round. In fact, he opined that nothing in the history of the earth has ever been round. It may be within one billionth of an inch of round, but it probably is not exactly round.

If you’re building a house, and you specify a 2x4 six feet long, chances are your 2x4 is not six feet long. You can maybe tolerate it being off by an eighth of an inch, but if you demand that it be accurate to the width of a human hair, that is a problem. You can’t afford that house.

I was on the Apollo program. A serious discussion was on the “factor of safety.” Welds are not identical. Do you make it 10 times as strong as it needs to be? Twice as strong? How about 1.5? Yes, we took some risks. But with a factor of safety of 2, it would never get off the ground.

Recently, I read an article on the probability of being hit by a tornado. Perhaps we should prohibit anyone living in Kansas.

What are the numbers on Yucca Mountain? How does that compare with other risks in my life? There are risks in the copper mine, but we need copper for the windmill generator. There are risks in the solar panel factory and the transportation and installation of the panels. Heat is generated in manufacturing, transportation, and installation of solar panels, and this contributes to global warming.

When I was born, the world had about 2 billion people. Now it has about 8 billion. Clearly, with all the risks, many of us survive.

Charles Gould, Las Vegas