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January 26, 2015

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Who gets credit for killing Yucca amendment?

Reid, Heller both fought Illinois senator, but he gives Republican colleague a push


File photo

Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is seen in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is seen in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

Sen. Harry Reid speaks during a rally Friday at Orr Middle School in Las Vegas.

Sen. Harry Reid speaks during a rally Friday at Orr Middle School in Las Vegas.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois dropped on Wednesday his amendment to block any funds from being used to shutter the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository — an order that would have effectively led to its redevelopment.

Cue the scramble by the Nevada delegation for who gets to take credit — which got so frenzied that even Kirk decided, of his own rather curious volition, to weigh in.

“Sen. (Harry) Reid has been working behind the scenes lining up opposition to this amendment on both sides of the aisle. That’s the reason why this was dropped,” said a Democratic aide who called within minutes of Kirk’s decision being made public. “It became abundantly clear that this amendment was doomed to fail.”

Predicting that Sen. Dean Heller — who offered a counter-amendment to Kirk’s after he was unable to dissuade the Illinois Republican to drop his cause — would try to claim some credit, the aide went on: “(Heller) was just sitting on his hands. The reason this amendment is off the floor is Harry Reid.”

Later Wednesday afternoon, Heller was measured when describing what happened from his perspective.

“Sen. Kirk and I had numerous conversations, but it was obvious that we disagreed on the direction where that was going,” he said. “I think he realized that he didn’t have whatever it took, he didn’t have the votes, whatever was necessary for his amendment to move forward. And I think we were part of that decision-making, but I don’t know to what extent.”

But Heller bristled when asked if his lack of seniority had prevented him from killing Kirk’s proposal outright.

“I see no reason why I can’t push as hard as anyone else to make things happen in the United States Senate,” Heller said.

He said, he said. It’s typical for the U.S. Senate, even when you are working toward the same goal.

Then things took an odd turn. Late in the day, I got a surprise phone call from the only man who could settle the argument: Sen. Mark Kirk himself.

I hadn’t asked to speak with Kirk. Confused by the call — senators don’t usually surprise regional reporters with unsolicited phone calls, especially when it’s a reporter far outside their region (it wasn’t my birthday either) — I asked him to explain what had led to his decision to drop his Yucca Mountain amendment.

After noting that he still intended to submit a letter to the conferees who will meet to reconcile the House and Senate Energy and Water bills, Kirk bluntly offered: “It was not just Reid; it was Sen. Dean Heller who was doing a very good job on the other side.”

“I called Dean to say ‘congratulations on this round, and see you next year,’ ” Kirk added.

A spokesman for Heller did not immediately return a call asking whether his office had put Kirk up to this gift interview; a spokesman for Reid said his office certainly had not.

But someone did.

“It does show you that the Republicans are aware that they need to help Dean Heller,” said UNR political science professor Eric Herzik. “I don’t think that was an accidental phone call. It clearly is designed to help Dean Heller, and at one level, that’s what the party needs to do.”

It’s not altruism on Kirk’s part: Nevada’s 2012 race between Heller and Rep. Shelley Berkley is shaping up to be one of the closest in the country (both candidates, incidentally, are vehemently against building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain). If control of the Senate is anywhere near as close, Kirk will need Heller’s win to give Republicans a majority in the U.S. Senate — which is key to Kirk’s greater plans for Yucca Mountain. As he told the Sun last week, Kirk’s plans for Yucca Mountain hinge on ending Reid’s tenure as Senate majority leader.

“As soon as Reid is out of office, we’ll win,” Kirk told the Sun last week of his fight to open Yucca Mountain.

Even if he’s working to help the anti-Yucca Mountain Heller right now, he’s still full-steam ahead on his long-term plan.

“Next year ... I’ll be trying to develop a proposal that benefits the state economy of Nevada,” Kirk told the Sun in Wednesday evening’s phone call, “to see if we can come up with a win-win situation.”

That could help with “the unemployment situation in Las Vegas,” Kirk said, or a straight-up large cash buy-off to persuade — or some might say bribe — Nevadans to go along with accepting the nation’s nuclear waste.

“At this point I am for anything that rapidly provides a permanent solution to protect the ecosystem first of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and other critical population centers, such as the Long Island Sound and the Diablo Canyon,” Kirk continued. “I think we should look to Nevada first because all the site preparation and study to see what kind of benefit should come to the state and to its economy.”

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  1. The states that benefit from nuclear power should also be required to deal with the waste disposal. This is another in a long line of reasons nuclear power is not feasible as a power source. No amount of money can compensate the people of Nevada to consume the poisons of the east coast. They don't want their air, lands and water sources contaminated. Neither do the people of Nevada at any price.

  2. Responses on this topic get "curiouser and curiouser." There is a long line of laws going back to the 1950's Atomic Energy Act that recognized that the disposal of spent fuel or high level waste ought not to be a federal responsibility. It is sufficiently dangerous to require the care that federal oversight, using nuclear utility money, can give. It has been a matter of LAW for over 70 years!

    There is also the matter of national defense waste stored in Washington, Idaho, South Carolina and several other states in smaller amounts. That is clearly a fedeal government responsibility and not those states'. Some of it, low-level waste, is buried in those states. But the higher level stuff needs a national repository.

    Transportation of this material is quite safe, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico has received over 10,000 shipment, 12 million loaded miles, from all over the country without any incidents involving the release of any radioactive materials. It is disposed of 2150 feet below the desert surface in 250-million year old rock salt, from before there were dinosaurs! This is defense waste from the Cold War weapons making effort.

    That repository is so successful that the region would like to be considered for other waste forms to come there too. The region (including a part of Texas literally just over the New Mexico border) is trying to establish a "nuclear corridor" with spent fuel storage the next big new addition to their existing deep geologic repository, their uranium enrichment plant, and their low-level radioactive waste facility.

    I hope they succeed, for the sake of the nation as well as themselves. We are talking about injecting several thousands of scientists, engineers, managers, and skilled crafts people that comes with this type of carefully controlled high-technology activity into an economy relying on agriculture, mining, oil and gas production, and cattle ranching before. It is great diversification!

    Although there are a few foreclosures in the region, all in all the downturn in housing prices was not seen at all in this region because of the --overall-- steady but slow growth of the area. Economic diversity really helps stabilize a regional economy, something Nevada doesn't seem to realize with their frenzied attempts to please the most fickle industry there is: gaming, which is even now, while Vegas is desperate, going to compete with Vegas once again by building a mega resort elsewhere in the US, or so I heard recently. They are after money for themselves, period, not after assuring the economic viability of Las Vegas. How long ago was it that one of the largest casino moguls toyed with moving his headquarters to China? Yet it was to protect that industry, not you personally, that the big political opposition to Yucca was mounted (that is my view of it).

    Responses on this topic get "curiouser and curiouser." There is a long line of laws going back to the 1950's Atomic Energy Act that recognized that the disposal of spent fuel or high level waste ought to be [the NOT in the previous version is an error] a federal responsibility. It is sufficiently dangerous to require the care that federal oversight, using nuclear utility money, can give. It has been a matter of LAW for over 70 years!

  4. Who gets credit for killing Yucca...Stupid people who believe in science until it comes to this topic.

    Who gets credit for killing Yucca...People who can't comprehend reality and want to live in fear of anything they don't understand.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed this article, Karoun. Especially the reporting about the hardball politics on the Nevada side.

    It's just confirmed that my vote for Senator Reid has not been wasted. Just on this Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) issue alone, my vote has been worth its weight in gold. As evidenced by his continuing and sustained fight to prevent YMP.

    Also, it has been confirmed Senator Heller is still a disappointment. He was appointed. Not elected. Not popularly elected. He was appointed by Governor Sandoval to warm a bench temporarily. After the last wunderkind Republican voluntarily resigned after pressure due to an adultery scandal, possible criminal violations associated with his willing participation in a love triangle and even corruption with campaign funds. Heller is simply an illogical choice; below average and has no hope of being voted back. Because the people in Nevada are simply tired of Republican shenanigans that get us nowhere.

    And he knows it. As evidenced by his looking to score political points anywhere he can to try to get elected in November 2012. I too find it funny that Kirk made a special call after your exchange; only with the sole intention of scoring political points and votes.

    As far as most voters in Nevada look at it, Senator Heller is dead politically, but still walking around right now.

    He is STILL the only politician in the history of the United States who voted for the horrible Ryan Plan TWICE, once while he was in Congress and then in the Senate.

    He is a typical brain dead Republican politician. You vote for him, it's not a vote for him, it's a vote for Grover Norquist.

    Anyways, another win for Nevada in fighting all these YMP vampires off and keeping them away from us.

    I do suggest that if Kirk tries this end around again, we really need to send a large delegation from Southern Nevada to his home in Illinois for the sole purpose to cover his backyard with ceremonious protest excrements. See how he likes it when someone does something to his property. It would be the same thing he's trying to do to Southern Nevada.

    No means no.

    And it STILL means no.

    But I encourage more and more time be wasted, more courts need to be tied up with frivolous lawsuits, more congressional hearings, hire more scientists to write stuff by the pound, and money by the bundles stacked sky high be wasted. ESPECIALLY money. The more money wasted, the faster YMP will be realized to be a pipedream and eventually abandoned as an alternative.

    Nevada don't want this. Call me NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) all you want, but I do know the overall population here don't want Southern Nevada turned into a nuclear waste toilet receptacle.

  6. westvegas, You are completely WRONG. I care very deeply, but unlike you and the other posters, who continually decry Yucca, I have actually done the research and studied the ENTIRE situation.

    Don't live in fear...... get educated.

  7. We can only do what is best for today. As far as we the people know, our desert, will remain the same for many eons (with very little, to no growth). No water, no life. It only makes sense to have one or two Nuclear Depository. Building more,increases the chance of the government losing paperwork or the waste itself. Millions have been spent on Yucca.....USE IT! I know some people are thick between the ears, but the government WOW, what a bunch so called INTELLIGENT MORONS. With no COMMON SENSE!!!!

  8. I won't claim to be a scientific genius but I do know that storing nuclear waste on top of a active fault is a bad idea. Bottom line Nevada citizens do not want the nations nuclear waste to be stored here.

  9. Westvegas, now you have crossed into the delusional zone. You don't even know the difference between a nuclear reactor(Japan, oh btw, several are back on line) and repository.

    This is exactly where the naysayers go south. They have no clue what they are talking about.

    Chicken little must be your personal hero.

  10. Upon further review yucca mountain is located in a Caldera(massive volcano) and the area around yucca mountain has experienced 642 earthquakes since 1976. And yucca mountain itself is made up of volcanic ash an extremely porous material water contaminated or not filters rather quickly to the water table looks like the science discredits the yucca mountain waste site proponents. But then again the proponents would sell there soul to make a Buck and never cared for the science.

  11. This is another reason why Berkley must win next year...

    If Heller is in office when Reid retires in 2016 or if Republicans take control of the Senate before then, Heller will let the republicans turn Nevada into the nations nuclear waste dump site, regardless of where he stands on the issue today...

    Right now, its good politics for him to be against it, in the future, it may be good politics for him to be for it...He has already shown that his party and founding funders, come before our country and its citizens...

    Yucca was pushed onto Nevada because we had a weak delegation back in the 80's, it had nothing to do with science...

    Yucca Mtn sits on an aquifer, numerous fault lines run under it, and its an extinct volcano...

    Only a republican would ignore the science and facts and move forward with such insanity...

  12. Republicans have a long history of being all about worshiping the almighty $ dollar and totally disregard humanity and creation. A tiger cannot change its stripes, ever. Voters must look to the issues, become informed through their own independent research, and vote accordingly.

    We are already getting a hint of where the Republican Party is heading with Yucca Mountain. How about they focus on sending this high level radioactive waste to a facility already in use at Los Alamos, New Mexico? The citizens there WANT the stuff! This whole situation is about politics and the money supporting political campaigns of career politicians!!! Just follow the $ money $

    Blessings and Peace,