Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Yucca Mountain in Nye County

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

“Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”

Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.


Jim Day cartoon

35 comments on “Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

  1. robertleebeers says:

    It has been said that those opposed to the Alaskan pipeline are not complaining so much about the environmental effects since none can really be found, but more because of the yearly added boost to the economy. The left depends upon privation much in the same way a fish depends upon water. Without an underclass to believe that all of their problems are caused by someone else, the left has no inroads into power. If Yucca Mountain were to be developed into an industry that paid dividends to Nevada citizens, it is felt that a great many of these citizens would eventually join the middle class and very few of that class vote Democrat.

  2. Rincon says:

    And Mother Theresa depended on the privation of others.

    Liberals and champions of the poor have been with us for centuries. They didn’t disappear when our standard of living rose. Using your logic, Democrats should support anything that contributes to income inequality, since that feeds their base. Hmmm…. you may be onto something. That would explain the inexorable decline of our middle class, wouldn’t it?

  3. deleted says:

    States rights, states rights, states right.

    By the way, has anyone ever heard of the 10th Amendment?

    Big bad federal gov’ment shoves poison down the throat of small defenseless state threatening citizens and (even more importantly for the far right wing; businesses) the very existence or at least viability of people in the state, and some people on the far right wing (not you Thomas) want to pretend that their reason for living (the 10th) doesn’t matter or even exist?

    “What about what the locals think”. Which was, at some point in the distant past, a sort of rally cry as to how the big bad federal government was ignoring the 10th and the rights of the people, and ought to be stopped.

    Principles are funny.

  4. Put a deal on the table and put it to a vote.

  5. deleted says:

    It was on the table, several times, Nevada’s voiced their opinions repeatedly and voted for candidates who opposed it to such an extent that every politician, even the far right wing ones, understand that supporting the dump means no office for them.

    With maybe the exception of the three or four guys who live in Nye County anyway.

    In round numbers Thomas, how many bites of the apple do you suppose the dumb people ought to get?

  6. deleted says:


    Although, it really works either way

  7. Steve says:

    There were never any deals on the ballot. The voters were never allowed to directly express their voices in this. It was always the powerful politicians saying what they demanded the voters believe.

    Had there been a potential deal for the people of Nevada (like the people of Alaska have with oil companies) I say our “representatives” would have felt a much different kind of pressure.

    Don’t claim there were deals, none were ever offered to Nevada voters.

  8. deleted says:

    “There is a little carrot in this bill,” J. Bennett Johnson (D-La.) said in announcing the legislation.

    The proposal provides $100 million annual incentive payments to the recipient of the permanent repository and $50 million for the temporary storage facility that would prepare waste for eventual burial.

    Such payments “for something that’s going to happen anyway . . . becomes a very attractive deal,” said Johnston, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman. . .

    “Nuclear waste involves no great harm to the areas involved. It is a perceived problem,” Johnston said. “These are very generous amounts of money to deal with a perceived problem.” [Washington Post, March 26, 1987]

    Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nv.) and Rep James H. Bilbray (D-Nev.) immediately denounced the money offer as a “bribe,” and Nevada Governor Richard H. Bryan (D) called it “nuclear blackmail.”

    Bilbray said the money offer was “a bribe that Congress will never accept.” [Washington Post, March 26, 1987]

  9. Steve says:

    Show me the Nevada ballot that let us voters weigh in, Patrick.

  10. The Harry Reid Memorial Nuclear Storage and Reprocessing Plant…accessible by the Oscar Goodman spur of the Union Pacific Railroad, can’t think of a more fitting tribute!

  11. deleted says:

    “Had there been a potential deal for the people of Nevada (like the people of Alaska have with oil companies) I say our “representatives” would have felt a much different kind of pressure.”

  12. Steve says:

    “Don’t claim there were deals, none were ever offered to Nevada voters.”

    Patrick is exhibiting his special brand of mischaracterization.

  13. Steve says:

    “There were never any deals on the ballot. The voters were never allowed to directly express their voices in this. It was always the powerful politicians saying what they demanded the voters believe.”

    Patrick hates to read.

  14. Bill says:

    Nevada Organized Labor a number of years ago was in favor of the Yucca Mountain repository because of the jobs involved Many of the politicians were in favor as well but quickly changed sides as being for the project was far harder than being for it, because of two words, (gasp?): NUCLEAR and DUMP. The public has a great fear of nuclear and of course no right thinking citizen wants their state to be classified as a dump for anything. It is quite a learning experience to tour the site itself and look down on the site of so many nuclear explosions. Nuclear is one of the verboten energy sources though since it is clean and atmospherically non-polluting it is difficult to understand why

    As for the label of being a “dump”, it is a little ironic that a state with 24 hour gambling and liquor sales and is home to the Nation’s only Mob Museum, has legal prostitution, legal marijuana and is 87% owned by the federal government should be concerned with being a repository for nuclear spent fuel rods is some what of a mystery.

    Particularly since at this stage Nevada has some bargaining leverage to extract massive payments from the nuclear industry and has the potential of making a massive amount of money from recycling, not to mention the added workers.

    Quite frankly, I have never known an individual or a company that didn’t get rich from being in the waste disposal business. If it looks like it is going to be inevitable then be wise and negotiate a tremendous deal for Nevada. Once again, I am amused by the sudden discovery of the 10th Amendment. Perhaps the more rabid opponents of Yucca will be tempted to fire upon Fort Churchill since Fort Sumpter is in the Carolinas.

  15. deleted says:

    From the first, and to date, Nevadans recognized the Screw Nevada Bill and subsequent efforts to place the dump in Nevada for what it was; an effort by politically advantaged states, and their corporate backers in the nuclear industry, to,well screw Nevada. A small state, with no nuclear reactors, into accepting the most poisonous substance on earth, not because of any reason other than that the politically advantaged states and their corporate backers could.

    The oddest of the many odd things about it is that, in a state with a long history of conservative activists who at near every opportunity invoked, according to them on principle, the 10th Amendment proclamations regarding states rights became mealy mouthed worms suddenly seeming to believe that there were but 9 Amendments to the Constitution, and even that given that the document was specifically a grant of power from the states, to the federal government which had only the powers so delagated and no more which made the 10th just superfluous anyway.

    Nevada, and it’s citizens have, since the Screw Nevada Bill was past, voiced their objections to the dump at every opportunity to the point where EVERY representative elected to serve in this states national offices. Heck, we all know, even if some choose to ignore it, that no politician can have any hope at election for one of Nevada’s congressional or senatorial offices if they so much as say that they MIGHT consider accepting the dump. Which, if that doesn’t tell you what you need to know, then you’re not interested in knowing.

  16. Steve says:

    With no questions ever placed on ballots, political “leaders” have TOLD us what we are allowed to think on this matter.

    If one is willing to honest with oneself, a thing of this magnitude would have been a ballot question long before any of our “leaders” TOLD us what we are ALLOWED to think about it as Patrick so kindly reminded us in his earlier post mischaracterizing my words.

    “Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nv.) and Rep James H. Bilbray (D-Nev.) immediately denounced the money offer as a “bribe,” and Nevada Governor Richard H. Bryan (D) called it “nuclear blackmail.”

    Bilbray said the money offer was “a bribe that Congress will never accept.” [Washington Post, March 26, 1987]”

    Our erstwhile “leaders” never directly asked us what we think.

  17. Barbara says:

    I’ve long been puzzled by the fact that neither political party has supported developing Yucca Mountain (This by itself would be a reason to vote for it.) However, I admit I have not really studied the subject.

    When Yucca Mountain was operating, an elder at my church was a nuclear physicist working for the government, and had a very prominent role at Yucca Mountain. I briefly asked his opinion about the safety of the proposal. His opinion was the project was very safe but would be defeated because “the powers that be in Nevada can’t see how they can control or benefit personally from it”.

    Contrast this with what our state and national political leaders do support for Nevada – illegal immigration growth through lax enforcement of existing laws, unsustainable expansion of Medicaid, increasing taxes and fees, etc. I been trying to think of any laws or regulations that have been passed or repealed that are designed to limit the reach of local or federal government control, but none come to mind.

    The left wholeheartedly supports us becoming more “European” in every way. If Europe can successfully use nuclear power and its waste, shouldn’t we “evolve” and join them?

    Economic, educational, and environmental standards of the people of Nevada play second fiddle to the personal ambitions of our dear leaders of both parties and the casino industry. Change the law to state that the resulting benefits from selling nuclear waste would flow to the casino moguls and watch how fast Yucca Mountain would become a reality. What fun it would be watching our dear leaders spin how safe Yucca Mountain had become!

  18. deleted says:

    Indeed let us sell our nuclear waste to the highest bidder; why didn’t someone else think of that?

    In fact, why haven’t we been doing this with all our garbage? All these years I’ve just been PAYING someone to haul away what I should have been selling them? Must be some kinda commie.

    And, yes indeed, let us be more like the Europeans some “conservatives” apparently admire, leastways when it comes to our nuclear industry.

    Shortly after Chernobyl there were 177 producing reactors in the EU countries. Today there are fewer than 125. More power is needed today of course than there was in 1986 but those dumb old Europeans apparently decided that they’d let the Japanese have all the fun.

  19. deleted says:

    Depends on what you understand of what you read I suppose.

    “Shortly after Chernobyl there were 177 producing reactors in the EU countries. Today there are fewer than 125.”


    Are Russia’s reactors fairly counted in the total number of reactors operating in the EU? How about Romania?

  20. Amodei was re-elected.

  21. Steve says:

    “As of November 2016 there is a total of 186 nuclear power plant units with an installed electric net capacity of 163,685 MWe in operation in Europe”

    Does the UK count as EU anymore?

    France, with about 30% of European nuclear capacity, is the elephant in this room.
    And France does not appear to be shrtinking it’s reliance on nuclear power.

    Your link, Patrick, and the ones I provided are all reliable and pretty unbiased. But they all have different numbers.

  22. deleted says:

    ““Shortly after Chernobyl there were 177 producing reactors in the EU countries. Today there are fewer than 125.”

    Russia (not in the EU) has 36 operating reactors. Ukraine (not in the EU) has 15 (that’s 51 to you and me). More than 9 others from non-EU countries added mean that, the EU currently has less than 130 operating reactors today, down nearly 40% over the last 30 years from 177.

    “Let us be more like the Europeans.”

    I fear for our republic.

  23. Steve says:

    France is home to Nuclear in Europe, Patrick.
    And France isn’t shrinking their numbers.

    Your insistence on your numbers is spin in an attempt to prove something that simply doesn’t exist.
    Europe is reliant on nuclear energy, specially that exported by France.

  24. Deleted says:

    speaking of republics, anyone know the difference between them and democracies? And more specifically them and “direct” democracies?

  25. Bill says:

    Barbara. In answer to your rhetorical question as to why neither political party ever supported Yucca Mountain, the short explanation is that those in power started to do so but then those in power opposed the whole idea.

    Siting the repository for nuclear waste anywhere is a classic example of an issue that is ideal for demagoguery.

    Some people have an innate fear of anything “atomic”. They remember much of the terror of the cold war. If you are old enough you will remember bomb shelters and safety drills conducted in public schools in case of atomic attack.

    In fact, some politicians were in favor of the project. That is until it was perceived that it was an issue fraught with political peril. Nuclear? Horrors! Stop it. Dump? Horrors? Stop it. To support the proposal you had to really think about it instead of simply reacting to it.

    At the outset of the Yucca proposal, some within the Republican Party tentatively supported the proposal. One of the more visible and vocal proponents of the site was Bob List. As the naysayers grew, many initial supporters like the Labor Unions and those politicians that initially expressed support were faced with the political reality that support could be a costly position. To coin a pun, support became a “toxic issue”. Thus in order to survive politically, List modified but did not basically change his support for the project.

    A friend of mine is fond of quoting H. L. Mencken. Mencken’s quote seems even more appropriate today.

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

  26. deleted says:

    I still remember when the movie China Syndrome with Jack Lemmon. Fiction of course until Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl and Fukisima.

    And what a coincidence while some talk of what a boogie man nuclear waste is heck about like mothers milk apparently to some, certainly nothing to fear right?

    “In an email, Alvarez added that “the tunnels now store contaminated train cars and a considerable amount of highly radioactive, ignitable wastes including possible organic vapors.” And while the older tunnel is reinforced with timber, Alvarez said, “according to a 1997 DOE report, inspection of the tunnels ‘is not feasible because of radiation levels in excess of five roentgens per hour.’ ” A roentgen, or rad, is a measure of radioactive exposure; five roentgens is the annual limit for a U.S. nuclear worker.”

    The collapse just today of a Tony bit of a large tunnel system at the Handford site, which contains but a small token of the poison that big states and rich corporations “voted” to shove down the throat of Nevadans is so poisonous, that people can’t even go near it! Even to inspect it. And of course, the bad ole incompetent gov’ment is going to be operating it, and odd that the same “conservatives” that squeal so often and so loudly about how they can’t do anything right, are all for trusting them to handle the deadliest poison man has ever created right in our backyard.


  27. Steve says:

    Attempting to equate glass and/or grout rods with WWII era barrel storage of plutonium waste simply doesn’t cut it, you fukin id10t

  28. Rincon says:

    Your comment says more about you than deleted, Steve. Not exactly a class act.

  29. Steve says:

    Go back and read where I got the “fukin” from Rincon.
    You will find it is payment in kind.

  30. Rincon says:

    Hatfields and McCoys

  31. Steve says:

    cept, I used it where appropriate.

    Patrick is boneheaded and that post proved it.

  32. […] a letter earlier this year the Nye County Commission stated, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would […]

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