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Wyoming lawmakers accept free trip to Yucca Mountain

Friday, May 21, 1999

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - About 10 Wyoming lawmakers have signed up to take a free trip to the proposed high-level nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

They will be guests of nuclear power industry lobbyists June 7-9, raising eyebrows from conservationists who claim the legislators' hosts will offer only a biased view on nuclear storage issues.

Participants say much can be learned from such a trip. Sen. Jayne Mockler, D-Cheyenne, said legislators need to be informed when they make decisions.

"It's pretty hard to make decisions when you live in a vacuum," said Mockler, Senate minority caucus chairman. "Since it doesn't seem to be going away, the next best thing is to educate yourself about it. ... They are not buying my vote."

Mockler said she has always opposed nuclear storage proposals in Wyoming.

But Stephanie Kessler of the Wyoming Outdoor Council called the trip "incredibly unbalanced" - if an unbiased education about the facility is the goal.

While six Wyoming legislators have said they would not attend, there is still time for others to sign up, according to Julie Jordan, manager for the Nuclear Energy Institute sponsoring the trip.

A second trip might be scheduled later this summer for legislators who cannot participate in the first trip, according to Jordan.

The institute might also plan a trip to Maryland to look at dry storage facilities similar to a proposed temporary facility near Shoshoni, she said.

Wyoming law requires, among other things, that the Yucca Mountain site be ready before Wyoming's Owl Creek site is developed. The U.S. Department of Energy has said studies of Yucca Mountain have not revealed any conditions that would stop the plan.

Nevada officials continue to fight the proposal, offering studies that suggest the site is not as fail-safe as the federal government claims.

"(Wyoming legislators) are going to a state that clearly feels that it has been throttled by the federal government," Kessler said.

She said the Wyoming lawmakers are scheduled to hear only from industry and federal officials.

"It's no surprise that the industry is providing such a one-sided point of view, but I would think that the legislators who are going would want to meet with state officials," she said.

Jordan said she would try to arrange a meeting with Nevada legislators, but she said the institute wouldn't invite state officials opposed to the project.

"We know what they are going to say," she said, questioning the quality of the state's science.

The Nevada governor's office has made Yucca Mountain an "over-my-dead-body issue," she said.

Bob Loux, director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Office, said Wyoming legislators who wish to hear the state's perspective should request that a state representative join the tour or call his office.

While industry officials often offer tours for officials and members of Congress, he said state officials are seldom invited - although the media have requested tours with both federal and state officials.

"Our view is that the Yucca Mountain site is not going to be licensable," he said. "So I would think that the people who would want an objective view of Yucca Mountain would insist on hearing from the proponents and opponents."

House Speaker Pro Tempore Harry Tipton, R-Lander, who has signed up for the trip, said state officials who oppose the project can still contact legislators - and the other way around.

"My idea is more information. ... I would like to know more about it, what all they have set up, what their propaganda is," he said. "It's a curiosity too, because of the kind of project that it is."

An opponent of any nuclear waste storage in Wyoming, Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, said he has chosen not to go because he couldn't see how it would help him or his constituents.

"I can't conceive of what the supporters of the Yucca Mountain site would be able to say to me in Nevada that they couldn't say to me here in Laramie," he said.

Massie said the trip is bound to be full of propaganda. At the same time, he said, lawmakers are aware of that and should be able to judge the information they receive when they participate.