Nuclear waste storage proposal ‘stinks’ to Nevada officials

By Scott Sonner and Ken Ritter The Associated Press
Friday January 11, 2002

RENO, Nev. — Nevada officials reacted angrily to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham’s recommendation that the nation’s nuclear waste be stored at Yucca Mountain, vowing to continue the fight by emphasizing the vulnerability of waste shipments to terrorist attacks. 

“I told the secretary this decision stinks, the whole process stinks and we’ll see him in court,” Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn said Thursday after Abraham telephoned him with the news. 

“I explained to him that we are going to fight this with every ounce of energy we can mount. ... I also told him that on behalf of all Nevadans I’m outraged that he is allowing politics over sound science.” 

The long-awaited announcement sparked a number of reactions in Nevada: 

— Assistant U.S. Senate Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Nevada delegation lacks the votes to block the project in the Senate. But Reid, Guinn, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and the rest of the delegation said they would press their case scientifically, economically and politically to Congress and the White House. 

— Ensign said President Bush could cost Nevada Republicans two hotly contested congressional seats and threaten the GOP’s narrow majority in the House if he approves the dump. 

— Reid and Ensign said a key part of their argument will be based on concerns about transporting waste to the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

“We’re talking about 77,000 tons of the most poisonous substance known to man is going to have to get to Yucca Mountain somehow, either by rail or truck,” Reid said. 

Ensign said many Senators have “never heard the arguments about transportation. 

“And post Sept. 11, you can bet that is one of the arguments we are going to hit them on and hit them on hard,” he said. 

Backers of the dump say the waste will be transported in special canisters strong enough to withstand any crash or attack. 

“But nobody foresaw the World Trade Center towers and a plane becoming a weapon and the heat and all of that,” Ensign said. 

“It would be easy I would think, based on what we saw there, to design something to go in and break open one of these canisters as it is crossing across Los Angeles or Denver, Colorado or Chicago, Illinois or St. Louis, Missouri or any of those major cities. And we are going to target those senators in particular,” he said. 

In Las Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman pledged to warn members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors next week in Washington, D.C., about nuclear shipments through their cities. 

“This stuff is just a moving target for terrorists and teen-agers flying Cessnas,” Goodman said, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks and Saturday’s crash of a a single-engine plane piloted by a 15-year-old boy into a Bank of America tower in Tampa, Fla. 

Reid said dump opponents face an uphill battle in the Senate. 

“Right now the odds are that we can’t get 51 votes. But that’s today and we’ll see what happens a couple months from now. 

Reid said Abraham’s decision was hasty, dangerous and premature given “the mountain of evidence that the site is unsuitable.” 

“After he receives the secretary’s report, President Bush has an opportunity to cut through the bureaucratic pseudo-science, see this project for the sham that it is, and do the right thing for America and Nevada by changing course,” Reid said. 

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said he was disappointed but not surprised by the recommendation. 

“It is unfortunate that Secretary Abraham would continue green-lighting a project that has been riddled with corruption and mismanagement since its inception,” he said. 

Not all Nevadans are against the dump. 

Wally Everett, 76, a retired iron worker who worked at the Nevada Test Site and lives in Amargosa Valley, said he has no objection to the plan. 

“It’ll bring jobs to this town,” Everett said. 

Former Republican Nevada Gov. Robert List, the highest-profile Nevada resident to support the waste dump, said Abraham’s decision should spur the state to seek federal funding for other projects and services. 

“I think there’s a growing feeling that this project will be developed, a greater sense of reality on the part of the public,” said List, who has been hired by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s lobbying arm. “And certainly if that happens, there are certain benefits Nevada should get.” 

List predicted it could be six months before Congress votes on the Yucca Mountain project and said the state stands to benefit from jobs at the $58 billion, 17-year construction project, and should also seek funding for schools, roads and law enforcement. 

Kalynda Tilges, organizer of Citizen Alert, a Nevada environmental group opposed to the project, said she wasn’t surprised by the recommendation. 

“Obviously, Spencer Abraham’s visit Monday to Yucca Mountain was simply for show,” Tilges said. 

Guinn and Abraham met for about an hour Monday before Abraham’s first-ever tour of Yucca Mountain. 

Ensign said Bush still must act on the recommendation — and if he does, Guinn has the ability to veto the legislation. That would send the matter back to Congress, where the House and Senate could override Guinn’s veto by a simple majority vote. 

Ensign stressed that even then, the project only would advance to the licensing phase. He said some experts estimate the earliest nuclear waste could begin arriving at the site would be 2020. 


Associated Press writers Brendan Riley and Sandra Chereb contributed to this report.