Published on Tuesday, May 7, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
Yucca Magic Mountain
by Carol Norris
There has been a lot of talk and a lot of concern about what irresponsible thing some distant Rogue Country of the Week might do with nuclear capability. Well, put away those maps since we need look no further than our backyard to be worried about potential nuclear sloppiness. America’s week has come.
This is the week that members of the House vote on the proposal to relocate all the country’s pesky radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain. Nevada’s Governor Kenny Guinn vetoed the Bush administration’s earlier decision to move some 77,000 tons of nuclear waste from sites all over the country to Yucca Mountain. Governor Guinn noted, among other things, several studies indicating the site’s inability to safely house America’s nuclear waste.
Nonetheless, this week’s vote will decide whether to stay or override Guinn’s veto. An override would be grim for Nevada residents. But it shouldn’t be only Nevada residents up in non-nuclear arms, to be sure.
Residents of the 43 states through which trucks and trains, carrying big casks of spent hot reactor fuel, will be passing ought to give a little shudder. These vehicles could be crisscrossing your state or a state near you for many years to come. A great many of us could be motoring along, cutting off trucks that may be little nuclear explosions waiting to happen. They’ll be quite common, these trucks, what with the waste of every site in America to relocate. So you’re bound to see them. Your family might even be able to wave to the drivers and conductors as they carry their burbling, toxic cargo right past your house or your kid’s school or your neighborhood park.
Oops. Maybe you shouldn’t wave. The driver really should keep both hands on the wheel. We wouldn’t want any nuclear accidents. But, of course there will be accidents. Trucks crash and trains derail. Even the DOE and other experts agree accidents will happen. They just don’t know how bad it will be. And that point can’t be overstated. If this plan bears fruit, they are playing Russian roulette with the lives of 138 million unwitting people. Will they be able to clean it up? Maybe. Will people die? Maybe. Will there be a significant increase in thyroid cancer and birth defects? Maybe.
It seems Congress is voting on this as if it is an either/or proposition; either move the waste or keep it where it is, as always. But, a less risky, more viable alternative was submitted to the DOE, which the DOE did not publicize.
In addition, in 1989 more than a few members of the U.S. Geological Survey said it seemed the DOE was deliberately preventing the finding of problems that would disqualify the site. Even some at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission complained that work at the site seemed more about getting the repository built rather than determining its suitability.
Messing around with nuclear waste is deadly serious business. We should be having vigorous public debates about the risks, the costs and the alternatives, rather than pushing this through.
And if you are resting assured thinking your representatives are feverishly weighing all these important concerns so you don’t have to, perhaps you might check out the agenda for “Countdown to Vegas.” This is the title of the program that described this past weekend’s event-filled junket for congressional staffers touring Yucca Mountain. The junket is hosted by the Nuclear Energy Institute. It was one of several that have been hosted in the last several months. On these junkets staffers enjoy high-end hotel rooms, lavish meals, golf, free shows, free drinks and, oh yes, they will squeeze in a tour of Yucca Mountain between hands of blackjack.
I wonder if its hard to keep your mind focused on the concerns of your constituents such as the fact that the site is in an earthquake and flood zone; or that the repository will most probably leak radionuclides, contaminating the surrounding environment and water supply; or that the waste containers have yet to be fully tested; or that the tens of thousands of radioactive shipments are a terrorists dream when you are humming along with Wayne Newton to Danke Schoen?
Ah, don’t worry too much. If there is a veto override, and this all comes to fruition the Orwellian advertising agencies and marketers, like the ones who promoted Operation Enduring Freedom, could come in and change the collective perception of Americans into thinking this ill-fated plan is as good for them as a bowl of Wheaties. And we’ll feel all better.
Perhaps they’ll start by changing the name “nuclear waste” to a more forgiving word like, say, “Leftovers.” And then they could get us thinking about possible exposure in terms of how the138 million people on the transport route could “expose” themselves to increased income with the potential flurry of entrepreneurial activity spawned from all the transport.
And as we collectively take the bait, it could start. First, perhaps, a whole new fleet of Radioactive Waste Truck Drivers will be born. “Just Taking Home the Country’s Leftovers,” their friendly tagline could read. What a cushy job those drivers will have, carting around lethal toxins all day.
And then new quickie mart/nuclear spill emergency body washing station franchises could bloom, peppering the highways every few miles.
And not wanting to let a perfectly good piece of real estate go to waste, they could build an amusement park and gambling casino right on top of Yucca Mountain itself. They could call it Yucca Magic Mountain Amusement Park, Gambling Casino and Leftovers Retirement Home Triplex. Who could possibly hate a home for radioactive waste that is so much fun? They could just scoop up any spills or leakage and reroute it to fuel the rides and run the casino and heat the swimming pool. Certainly no waste there - plus, it’s a free power source. And, that equals more profits.
But, of course it won’t really be about profits. It’ll be about the kids. And the laughter. Children will squeal with delight as they ride up and down on the Uranium Rod Action Simulator. Load up the family for a turn on the always-unpredictable Runaway Nuclear Reaction Train, or take a lazy ride on the Fission Wheel. They could even have a special ride called the Veto Override. It’ll be the only one where they pay you to get on board – a little nod to the NEI and Congress who helped make it all possible. And you’ll be able to bring home all the fun memories in a photo taken with Plutony, the big, adorable Plutonium Isotope, and the Triplex’s mascot. [He’s also available as a snuggly stuffed atom for $29.95 at the gift shop.]
Yes, Yucca Magic Mountain will have a heart. Laid off Enron employees could have first dibs at jobs there. They could be given generous YMM stock options and get free housing right on the waste site. The possibilities are endless, really. I could go on and on. But, don’t you feel better already?
Carol Norris is a freelance writer and psychotherapist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org