Published on
the Nevada Appeal

There's Only Toxic Waste at the End of Yucca Mtn. Rainbow

Shelley Berkley

The recent op-ed (by Chuck Muth, April 11) calling on Nevadans to embrace nuclear waste was a little like listening to someone talk about living on Mars with no mention of how you get there from planet Earth (Nevada should profit from Yucca gold mine, April 11).

In his piece, Chuck Muth conveniently glosses over the reasons Yucca Mountain is bound to fail both scientifically and because of its $80 billion price tag. He seeks to paint a utopia in which nearly all of Nevada's most pressing economic needs can be met by turning our home into an epicenter for nuclear waste disposal.

Visions of nuclear power plants dotting the Nevada landscape and pipelines to the Pacific are false promises to two of our most pressing needs - clean energy and a steady water supply. And the author fails to acknowledge the myriad of dangers his plan would create, not only for Nevada and the nation, but for global efforts to limit terrorist access to dirty bombs and nuclear weapon-making materials.

The nuclear industry and others have been selling this same tale of overnight riches for decades. They peddle these claims in an attempt to chip away at intense opposition from Nevadans to the dumping of toxic radioactive waste 90 minutes from Las Vegas - our state's largest community and most powerful economic engine. We didn't believe it in the 1980s and '90s and we still aren't buying the idea that this is a new radioactive "Comstock Lode" for the 21st century.

Nevadans know a bad bet when we see one and that is the reason we remain overwhelmingly opposed to Yucca Mountain. Remember, there is no pot of gold at the end of the Yucca Mountain rainbow and no magic wand to wave over toxic radioactive waste that will simply make the dangers disappear.

The reason for Nevada's well- founded opposition to Yucca Mountain is that the proposed repository is designed to fail. Volcanoes and earthquakes have rocked the area around Yucca Mountain in the past and there is every reason to believe these threats will strike again. At the same time, canisters placed inside the mountain will rapidly corrode, allowing radioactive waste to escape and contaminate drinking water supplies for families living near the proposed dump site.

The fact also remains that you cannot reprocess much of the waste the nuclear industry and its allies like President Bush and U.S. Senator John McCain are desperate to ship our way. Defense waste from the U.S. military and the oldest spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants cannot be reprocessed, leaving Yucca Mountain as the only place on the books slated to store these toxic remnants.


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Waste buried in Yucca Mountain will not even hit peak danger levels for 300,000 years, the prime reason a federal court struck down Bush administration radiation standards for failing to protect against deadly releases far into the future.

Appeal readers should also recognize that reprocessing waste does not eliminate the need for a repository under any scenario, leaving Nevada as a prime target today and in the future for efforts to ship waste to Yucca Mountain on a "temporary" basis only to see this fool's gold stay forever.

Such a reprocessing scheme will, however, create dangerous new materials that could be used to build a nuclear weapon. This very real proliferation threat is why reprocessing regimes, such as the one promised by the author as our new road to riches, remain illegal under U.S. law.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans remember what this author has clearly forgotten - that terrorists are actively looking for the materials to build a dirty bomb. The thousands of waste shipments required under the Bush-McCain Yucca Mountain plan would each be a potential target for a terrorist strike or accident waiting to happen. A major incident resulting in the release of nuclear waste on our roads or railways will threaten lives and leave communities facing millions in clean-up costs and years of contamination. Decades of these "mobile Chernobyls" will endanger the lives of Nevadans and 50 million other Americans living along designated transportation routes.

Most importantly, there is simply no reason to move this nuclear waste to Nevada. Experts on all sides of the waste issue agree that we can safely store spent fuel in hardened canisters at nuclear power plant sites for the next 100 years. This solution, which is already being used at existing power plants nationwide, avoids the risk of waste shipments and buys our nation the time needed to rethink our failed strategy for dealing with this issue.

Finally, as a member of our Congressional delegation, I can assure Nevadans that we speak with one voice when it comes to expressing our continued opposition to being targeted as the nation's only high-level nuclear waste dump. This opposition also extends to the state and local level, where elected officials from Carson City to Las Vegas and across the Silver State have added their voices to this fight. These public servants continue to speak out because the families they represent have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to see Nevada buried in nuclear waste.

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas is in her fifth term as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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