Getting past Yucca after the science is heard

by Dan Schinhofen

As elected officials, we make decisions that can have far-ranging consequences. In doing our jobs, we need to make sure we are in possession of all the facts before we vote for or against any item. That is why I am so confused over the resolution that the Legislature is considering now.

Assembly Joint Resolution 10, "Expressing opposition to the development of a repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in the State of Nevada," is the same position that many of our state and elected officials have run on for years: "Just say no to Yucca."

By refusing to ask for the science to be heard, as provided for in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), it seems to me and others that many of our elected officials prefer political science over nuclear science.

I was on a panel with Bob Halstead, executive director of the state Commission on Nuclear Projects, a few months back and he started his presentation with the statement, "How do we get past Yucca?" As I told the room at that time, the only real way to "get past" this issue is to follow the law and allow the science to be heard. Some state officials are crying "federal overreach" and "It just isn't safe." Why do they continue to spout fear and loathing instead of facts?

How many times in the past few months have you heard about fear of trains going through Vegas to get spent fuel to Yucca? Too many to count. These people should know that the Caliente route was killed when (former Sen.) Harry Reid got President Barack Obama to designate the Basin and Range Monument between Lincoln and Nye County. (This was done over the expressed objections of both county commissions on unanimous votes.) We don't know what the new route would be or whether any waste would go through Las Vegas. If this is such a big concern, then work with Nye and the other affected counties to find a route that both protects Las Vegas and gives the state some real benefits.

We are told that tourism will die out if we store spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, but closer to the Strip is Area 5 where they have stored waste just as hot as much of the material that would be stored in Yucca. As a matter of fact, a few years back Gov. Brian Sandoval sat down with the DOE and accepted Uranium 233 and U-235 into shallow trenches at Area 5. Nye County, the host for Yucca and Area 5, was excluded from these talks. To this day we have no idea what deal was made, and yet the State still calls for a "consent­-based" option.

As to federal overreach, that is just another catch phrase designed to enrage the public. This material is the responsibility of the federal government and moving it to federal lands is completely within their constitutional powers. They could begin to move waste from our military here today and the state would have no standing on the issue.

So instead on sticking their fingers in their ears and saying no to the Yucca Mountain repository, our state officials should be asking for the hearings so that they can either prove their contentions or find themselves overruled when the people of this state (and nation) finally get to hear the science that has been collected over last 30 years. After spending $15 billion, don't we deserve to have that science vetted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as provided for in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act?

We are told that it will cost the state millions to fight this project. Once again, why fight something that has not yet been proven to be bad...? But in any case, the DOE must, by law, provide funds for any stakeholder to bring their contentions forward during those hearings.

If this project is found to be truly unsafe, no one will want Yucca Mountain. However, if the project is found operationally safe, who would say "no" to a multi­generational, multi-billion-dollar public works project? No tax breaks or special session are needed to get this project going, just a willingness to stop saying "no" long enough to hear the science.

Nye County does not stand alone in its desire to hear the science. Eight counties in Nevada - Mineral, Esmerelda, Lander, Churchill, Humboldt, Elko, Lincoln and White Pine - have signed resolutions requesting the resumption of the licensing process so there can be a full review of the science behind the license application.

Nye County has been consistent in our stance on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository: if the science is proven, then we will host the site with proper mitigation. Please write to your state leaders and tell them we deserve to have the science heard. We are a nation of laws, so the opposition should stop just saying no and prove their position.

Dan Schinhofen is the chair of the Board of County Commissioners for Nye County.

Feature photo: The entrance to Yucca Mountain. Courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission via Flickr Creative Commons.