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March 1, 2015

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Killing Yucca Mountain would be a real gift

Welcome to December.

This is the time we think about ending one more chapter while we prepare to start another. It is a time of rejoicing, whatever your particular religious beliefs are or are not, because it is usually the time we think about being a little kinder, a little more forgiving and a little more, how shall I say it, human.

That is why I am taking this time to interject a harsh reality into what so many of us have believed to have been a Christmas gift come and gone. To tell the story, I will start with a well-known adage and end with another.

This is the season when the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is replayed for all to enjoy. I have watched it dozens of times, which either makes me a die-hard Jimmy Stewart fan, an insatiable sap or just another human being who enjoys the kind of movie that makes us feel good about the human spirit. There is no way anyone can say that the adage, “out of sight, out of mind” applies to that movie.

However, a calamity has been waiting to happen to our little community for over three decades, and those who wish to foist it upon us have done their best to keep its dangers out of sight. We dutifully have obliged and allowed it to elude our minds. Or, at least, we have allowed it to repose somewhere in the deepest part of our consciousness so as not to conflict with other challenges we face daily.

I am talking, of course, about the federal government’s not-yet-dead effort to bury the nation’s deadliest garbage ever produced — high-level nuclear waste — in Yucca Mountain, just a scant 90 miles from the epicenter of the world’s tourism mecca, Las Vegas.

We have been fortunate that Nevada has had a united effort by its political leaders up and down the line who have stood firmly opposed to any plan, any idea and any thought of allowing the rest of the country to dump its deadly waste in our backyard. It is no secret and has always been known — until the depressing recession that has knocked us on our heels recently — that the one occurrence that would stop Las Vegas’ growth in its tracks would be the opening of the dump and the inevitable radioactive accident.

The people of this state have always understood the danger of the dump and have been overwhelmingly and consistently opposed to Yucca Mountain. And they still are.

But, in the past couple of years, thanks to President Barack Obama and our senior U.S. senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, the prospects of that dump ever opening have been reduced to near zero. It has been a major achievement for the people of Nevada to get this done. And that is the problem.

We all think it is done. What we forget is that a change in the presidency, a change in Harry Reid’s status as majority leader, or a change in the political makeup of the U.S. Senate will resurrect that dump faster than a zombie in a grade-B horror film.

That is because Yucca Mountain continues to lurk in the hearts, minds and wallets of the nuclear power industry and its many proponents in the United States’ Capitol. Give those guys any opening and they will drive tens of thousands of high-level nuclear waste-filled trucks right into our backyard!

One reason that could happen is because Nevadans have gone to sleep at night the past couple of years believing that thing is really dead. It no longer registers on our “to do” list, as in “to do” anything we can to make sure we kill it and keep it dead. It is dead so we no longer think or care about it!


It is not dead and it will come back to haunt us faster than Congressmen Joe Heck and Mark Amodei can say they are open to discussions about what to do with Yucca Mountain. Yes, for the first time in our history, our congressional delegation is not on the same page and that should scare the heck out of every Nevadan.

So that brings me to the second adage. “Follow the money.”

Those who profess to be fair and open on the subject of nuclear waste and Nevada’s role as stooge in that process, insist that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission be allowed to determine whether Yucca Mountain is suitable. Those with half a brain know that the NRC is just a political animal ready to go to the highest bidder.

What, you say, how can Brian say that? The answer is simple.

The NRC is supposed to watch out for the health and safety of the people of the United States by making certain that all things nuclear are, well, safe. It is instructive to look at just two recent decisions by the NRC to help you determine whether Yucca Mountain and Nevadans will get a fair shake should the decision ever come before that group. As in should it choose between the health and safety of Nevadans or the health and well-being of the nuclear power industry.

On Nov. 8, the NRC disapproved a staff recommendation designed to enhance the agency’s oversight of nuclear power plants in an effort to address the widespread instances of leakage of radioactively contaminated water. You get it? Radioactive water from leaking power plants! And the NRC refused to provide additional oversight to make sure the public would remain safe, or at least as safe as they can be, from something so obviously dangerous. The chairman of the NRC, Greg Jaczko, the man who is standing in front of the nuke train to Yucca, was in the minority on that one. He voted to keep Americans safe. The nuke power industry beat the health and safety of Americans.

Follow the money.

On Aug. 9, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster — remember that one earlier this year? — Jaczko approved all 12 recommendations designed to improve nuclear power plant safety across the United States in an effort to avoid the total devastation we witnessed in Japan earlier this year. As of just a few days ago, the NRC has refused to take action on those safety issues, choosing instead to delay and obfuscate. For what reason?

It has gotten so bad that the chairman of an independent advisory committee of safety experts testified on Nov. 29 that, “At the risk of being impertinent, Fukushima happened eight and a half months ago. And with all due respect, all we’ve been doing is talk. Sure, it’s pretty sesquipedalian persiflage but it’s still talk. So, my feeling is we should get on with it.”

I also had to go to the dictionary on that one, but what I didn’t do is fail to understand that it is nuclear power industry money that is driving the debate at the NRC. And it is nuclear power industry money that is driving the GOP-controlled House and even some Democrats in the Senate to want to reopen Yucca Mountain. They refuse to recognize that Las Vegas’ future hangs in the balance.

But for Amodei and Heck? They know better. They know Yucca Mountain ain’t dead yet. So why are they aiding and abetting those who would bury us? Follow the money.

Tell those congressmen to stop talking nonsense and just kill it for good. Or elect someone who will.

Brian Greenspun is president and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. "Follow the money" is right!!!

    All things considering, it is NOT just Nevada that is at risk, but our whole nation. For the good of our country, it will really rest upon the MEDIA to keep the public aware, awake, and current on all things political, because we simply cannot count on politicians, our government, or interested agencies being 100% truthful nor unbiased.

    So, it is with great appreciation of the award winning, fair and balanced reporting of the Las Vegas Sun, that I ask and pray will keep the standard high in journalism, bring to the front and center those news stories that so deeply affect our citizens, as the Yucca Mountain High Level Waste Repository Project. May others in the media also do the same. Freedom of the Press still provides an avenue to educate the masses---to create an informed citizenry.

    We should put any political leader on notice that any hint of their waffling towards opening Yucca Mountain, will be met with our voting them OUT.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Enjoyed the article, Mr. Greenspun.

    You just made a very profound point that elections have consequences and EVERY SINGLE ONE of our votes count.

    This Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) issue is a serious factor in how I have voted before. And will continue to vote in the future.

    I just hope others wake up and focus on this.

    I'm voting for President Obama because of this issue specifically. Well, besides other issues that effect America, the main one being that I do not agree at all with the extremist and radical agenda of the Tea/Republican Party and their continual desire to let capitalism run this country rather than a democratic process.

    I just hope others see it too and get rid of the ones who are for YMP, or even the ones who visibly sit on a fence and wait for an opening where it will change, in order to set themselves up to make money and exploit it for political purposes.

    People like Heck, Amodei, Heller and yes, even Governor Sandoval. Even though the Governor has stepped forward against YMP, I really don't see him saying that because he is a man of conviction on that issue, it's because he knows that he will be slapped silly politically by voters out here if he makes the slightest move towards YMP happening. ALL of these above mentioned hacks are nothing but political opportunists on the YMP issue.

    We keep up the fight. YMP is dead.

    And to make sure it stays dead, ALL politicians' feet will be held to the fire if they don't go along with the wishes of the people of Southern Nevada.

    They really need to understand that it is not only assured, but a PROVEN FACT, that if they want YMP to go ahead, they will be committing political suicide.

  3. Killing Yucca is only a gift to mental midgets and "the sky is falling" crowd.

    No amount of logic, scientific facts or anything else that resembles reason will ever convince the knee-jerk crowd that Yucca is essential to the survival of Nevada.

    Data Searches of the history of the Test site will reveal the simple facts that having nuclear bombs detonate relatively close to Vegas has had zero negative impact on our population growth.

    For the life of me I cannot fathom why the same bunch of folks who espouse fixing global warming, investing in alternative energy and other breakthrough technologies think that science stops at the fence surrounding Yucca.

    Reprocessing the spent rods is a technology that will revolutionize this marvelous "clean-green" energy and it only makes sense to put the facility in ONE place and transport the materials to it. Why store the rods at numerous sites.

    Where are the spent materials from the military going to be stored?

    Either way, I say import it, tax it and move on. The revenue problems in the State would disappear almost overnight.

  4. Everything the artical says is right and so are the comments. Here is the problem, if our country insist on going Nuclear, then we need a repository in a location that offers little or nothing. Most things that are here, in NV, were brought in by man. There is little water and the soil grows, tumbleweed, mesquite, sage. Our prevailing wind is to the NE. I would rather see one repositroy than let the government build one in every state. That would be a disaster knowing the way our government handles things. Remember (Keep you Friends Close) and (your Enemies Closer). Believe me our government is no FRIEND.

  5. The only way to truly kill Yucca Mt. is to use it as bombing practice. As long as the tunnels remain, so will the likelihood that one day they will hold all of the high level nuclear waste ever produced since the dawn of the nuclear age. That cannot be allowed. It is time to test bunker buster bombs on Yuca Mountain!

  6. nvpatent, Really?? This is exactly what is wrong with the specious arguments against Yucca. No facts, just knee jerk emotion.

  7. I see the usual tea party supporters of yucca mountain are out spreading there disinformation and hate today but the science is once again proving them wrong. Yucca mountain sits in a ancient Caldera ( huge volcano ) yucca mountain is made up of volcanic ash a extremely porous material were contaminated water can easily percolate down to the water table. And the bow ridge fault line runs right underneath the location of this monstrosity of a nuclear dump and to top it off there has been more then six hundred earthquakes within fifty miles of yucca mountain since 1976. I do have a suggestion were this nuclear waste should be stored. Leave it in south Carolina the home of the tea party king Jim demint and Joe Wilson.

  8. Mike, your post was hard to read. I kept thinking it was from a comic strip due to your use of the words like; tea party supporters and hate.

    Funny stuff.

    Now it's time to get serious. Your point about Yucca being in an ancient Caldera is potentially the most worthless comment ever.

    So what??

    The facility will have environmental protections in addition to the sealed casks themselves. Did you know that Yucca Mtn. (yes, Mtn.) is in the desert? Did you know how little groundwater lies in that area?

    One more anti-yucca person who has no concept of science but wants to blame a "tea partier".

    FYI, I am not and never have been a Tea Party person. Common sense obviously isn't so common.

  9. Tim get a life

    I noticed you never contested that the waste site sits on a active fault line? And you never disputed that yucca mountain is made of tuft? Or the 600 plus earthquakes registered in the area in the last 45 years? I have observed your condescending insulting attitude. But considering that the science disproves your argument then that is all you have insults coupled with your nose in the air concludes that you need to get a life.

    And Tim make no doubt it you and the south Carolina delegation will fail. Nevada does not and will not be a dumping ground for other states problems.

  10. Jim Reid.

    Is that all you got insults? But then again since you lack facts or truth to back up your argument deception, lies or insults is all you have to offer. Any reason why you have to keep sticking your nose into Nevada business? Perhaps you are lonely you have stated before that women should not vote that in itself suggests that you have some sort of frustration with the opposite sex. Anyways jimbo if you actually had researched the whole yucca mountain waste dump you would know that the king of the tea party Jim demint is the driving force behind the pro yucca crowd but considering you past history of denial about knowing sal Russo who is behind your astro turf tea party you will lie about that also. Enjoy the rest of your bus ride come next November the party is over.

  11. Jim Reid

    And furthermore you have stated on many occasions that we can never trust the feds but in the case of yucca you state otherwise so that makes you a hypocrite.

  12. Nevada has shown it does not deserve the largest public works project of this generation. Let's be sure and follow the money, meaning let's make sure we follow where the billions slated for a repository ends up being spent. Wherever it is, there will be a huge and positive impact on the regional economy.

    And it will be safe, just like Yucca would have been safe. Transportation is where the (low) risk is, sure, but all the waste is solid, no liquids, and no gaseous waste forms, and we have many decades of experience moving it by rail, truck and barge already. It is not a high risk venture. New Mexico's operating repository has already seen 12 million loaded miles without any radiological incident. The government actually knows how to do this stuff!

    I feel really sorry for Nye County, especially, and the other rural counties, which have been fiscally sacrificed to please the very fickle mistress Las Vegas worships and adores: their beloved gaming industry. This is the mistress that moves her resources out of Las Vegas as quick as she can find lovers elsewhere. Recklessly, Las Vegas/Nevada continues to attempt to make love to this maniacally unfaithful love object without diversification-protection.

    Good bye and good luck with that approach to staying alive in a brave new post-recession world with a population largely without any surplus income.

  13. Science has NOT proven Yucca to be the best site for storage. Science has attempted to prove they can make it work. With enough money any location can be 'made' to work.

    Water percolation through the mountain is to be solved with titanium drip shields. Problem with that is if you add up all existing titanium with all known reserves yet to be mined; there isn't enough to build the titanium drip shields.

    Other problems the scientists claim to solve in the future when technology advances. Problem is once Yucca is filled; the heat and radioactive levels will prevent any human from entering for 1,000's of years.

    Then you have all these Republicans saying power should rest in the states not the federal government. 85% of Nevada residents do not want the dump, yet these same Republicans claiming states' rights are shoving it down our throats.

    The so-called ultra-safe trasportation casks are the solution to keeping the waste where it sits.

    Thank you Senator Reid for your tireless efforts to stop Yucca Mountain being used as the nations dump.

  14. Jim Reid

    Where have you posted a scientific fact to back up your argument? You haven't. Its obvious your are a bored lonely bitter person who has nothing else to do but constantly stick your nose in other people's business. So jimbo do us a favor in Nevada stick with California's issues and get a life for your own good.

  15. Lynn:
    1. No one ever asked the DOE to prove Yucca was the best, Congress asked DOE if it could be made safe here, and the answer was yes, and here is how much it will cost.
    2. That cost included the titanium, and the total mass of titanium would have equalled one year's US production. Titanium is one of the Earth's more common elements, it is just hard to separate from rock and that is what makes it expensive.
    3. The beauty of Yucca was that after 300 years, not thousands of years, when gamma and heat emissions are way down because most fission products have decayed away, it will be retrievable from that point on for hundreds of thousands of years. So if some future society wanted it, they could have it.

    Generally, earthquakes and volcanic events were all rolled into the analyses at a conservative frequency/probability and intensity and what was the end result? Most likely there could be a 1% rise in the very local background, at a million years in the future!

    You can raise your own local background 50% by moving to the flank of the Sierra Nevada Range where radon from granite bedrock and granite derived soils will be bathing you with a sizable amount of radiation that is STILL not dangerous or they would be evacuating most US Intermountain and Midwestern states!

    Or you can multiply your annual dose by 5 to 7 through simply smoking a pack and a half a day, Google it: 1.5 packs a day gets you about 1,500 millirem a year to your epithelium from polononium-210, the poison used to kill the Russian spy in England some years ago. How does that get into tobacco? Phosphate fertilizer has lots of uranium, polonium-210 is one of its decay products. It is a dangerous world! Yucca was not adding materially to that danger.

  16. Just think how bad our day would be if just one tanker-load of chlorine were to be dumped in central Las Vegas. Now think how many tankers of chlorine pass through Las Vegas every week.

  17. Abraham: "the total mass of titanium would have equalled one year's US production"

    While I don't have the tonnage projected to be needed, I have seen estimates that the titanium would cost 7-9 billion. Reverse engineering that estimate I came up with 176,000 metric tons.

    Currently our entire stockpile of titanium is approximately 40,000 metric tons. The total production worldwide is approximately 5 metric tons annually. 95% of titanium mined is used as a whitener and not of the quality needed for producing metal.

  18. Here is a link showing our stockpiles

    And here is a report describing the drip shields

  19. Jim Reid

    Excuses and attempted insults. But still no facts to support your argument. I will repeat it one more time get a life or get a job you are irrelevant hear.

  20. Lynn, your reverse-engineering from price is commendable, but the 6 billion (7-9 must have been escalated for inflation at time of purchase a hundred years from now, maybe?)for dripshields included their manufacturing cost, which were considerable.

    My point is always that Yucca would have been safe. Simply that.

    Would it have been smart? Well, the proposed massive engineered bariers (~ 11 billion for waste packages, ~ 6 billion for drip shields) are fighting water, yes, but they are also fighting oxygen!

    That is simply not necessary, you can avoid oxygen by going to a clay or salt or very deep granite site. With very deep granite you need a competent waste package plus a clay barrier to ensure no water flow around the waste. With a clay site you already have that barrier in the host rock itself, and with salt? If there is any water flow in salt, the salt would simply not be there! You do not need massive engineered barriers in either clay or salt formations.

    So going to any suitable deep clay or salt for your repository would save as much as has already been spent on Yucca, simply by not needing these expensive metal barriers!

    But my only point about Yucca is always that, as proposed, it would have been safe. And expensive, but every time Congress' question about whether it could be done safely was asked, the answer was truthfully yes--and here is what it will cost. Congress never blinked at or questioned the costs, just said to keep going. Congress was the boss. Public laws passed by Congress and signed by Presidents of both political flavors directed the project to keep moving forward over several decades.

  21. Jim Reid

    You still haven't posted any facts? And I would actually have to have one iota of respect for you to be insulted br your fallacious argument.

    The bottom Line jim a overwhelming majority of beverage citizens do not want yucca mountain to be used as the nations nuclear waste dumping ground. You have actually demonstrated again that you and your tea party are tyrants in supporting special interest over the citizens of Nevada.

  22. lets do it,if you dont like it you can always move.

  23. Meanwhile billions of tons of earth and huge amounts of underground water lay already contaminated underground at the test site. The scientists know radiation from tests creeps slowly toward the main Sierra Nv Aquifers. That is supposedly no problem because it will take a thousand years to travel there. Tell that to those future people who will be poisoned by a long dead civilizations radiation.