The Nevada Appeal

OPINION

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Bush breaks his campaign promise to Nevada

When President Bush approved the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on Friday, he broke a 2000 year election campaign promise to Nevada Republicans that his final decision on the project would be based on "sound science."

His blatantly political decision means that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and his deputy, Nevada's own Harry Reid, will soon have an opportunity to keep their promise to kill this radioactive project in Congress.

"The President's decision to recommend Yucca Mountain is based on sound science," said White I louse Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in announcing the decision. "The president listened to the governor, the state's senators and representatives of the people of Nevada and gave careful consideration to their views."

I have a one-word response: Baloney!

Nevada's Republican governor, Kenny Guinn, wasted no time in blasting the presidents decision. "I am outraged, as are the citizens of Nevada. As a state, we are solidly united to continue our fight against Yucca Mountain." Guinn said he would veto the project, which will require Congress to override his veto with majority votes in both houses. The House is almost certain to overturn Guinn's veto, but the Senate vote is up for grabs.

Early last year, in Las Vegas, Sen. Daschle promised that the Yucca Mountain project is dead as long as Democrats control the Senate. Well, maybe, but this will be a long, uphill battle for the state of Nevada against a popular president and a well financed lobbying campaign by the he nuclear power industry.

The president's decision comes on the heels of a statement by former Nevada Gov. Bob List to the effect that since highly radioactive waste is good for us, we can forget about the health and safety of our children and grandchildren and go for the money, as List did. The former governor, who makes big bucks as a shill for the Nuclear Energy Institute -- a group of companies that will profit handsomely from the Yucca Mountain dump-has advised his fellow Nevadans to cash in on a unique "opportunity"

"The amount being spent (on Yucca Mountain) over the years will go up and up," List told newsmen in Las Vegas two weeks ago. "Nevadans need to position themselves to catch that windfall." In other words, if we behave ourselves and give up our fight against the nuclear waste repository, the magnanimous Feds will shower us with expensive goodies including an environmental and energy research center at UNLV, federal income tax credits and annual "oversight payment's" starting at $100 million, which sounds like a good old fashioned political payoff.

List's approach is clear: States' rights be damned; full speed ahead. "This is the largest public works project in the history of the planet," he enthused. "Huge amounts will be spent here." For List and his friends, it's all about money. So what else is new?

It is apparent that President Bush had already decided the Yucca Mountain issue when the Nevada congressional delegation met with him earlier this month and declared that the president is a "good listener." If there was any doubt that the decision had already been made, just look at the Bush administration's budget proposal for fiscal 2002-03, which includes a $150 million (40 percent) increase for Yucca Mountain, where the government has already spent more than $7 billion on scientific, safety and feasibility studies.

It will be interesting to see how President Bush rationalizes his "sound science" decision in view of a recent General Accounting Office report urging him to postpone his decision in order to complete necessary scientific research and to resolve nearly 300 outstanding technical issues. The GAO said the Energy Department "is unlikely to achieve its goal of opening a repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010 and has no reliable estimate of when, and at what cost, such a repository could be opened."

But Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a failed Republican politician from Michigan, brushed off the GAO report as "fatally flawed" and plunged ahead with his pre-cooked recommendation for approval, ignoring the science and overwhelming public opinion in Nevada, where more than 80 percent of registered voters oppose the project.

If Abraham's recommendation had been based on sound science, he wouldn't have ignored the GAO report and the opinion of former Yucca Mountain project chief John Bartlett, who contends that the mountain's geology doesn't adequately protect Nevada's groundwater and air from potential radioactive pollution.

Bartlett, who headed the project from 1990 to 1993, recently testified that the composition of the mountain's rock formations was found to be "far inferior to that originally expected" in terms of preventing nuclear contamination. DOE responded that man-made storage canisters would provide adequate protection against such contamination. And then there's the unresolved problem of hauling more than 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste through hundreds of cities and towns -- including Reno and Las Vegas -- across America.

We can count on ex-Gov list and his wealthy nuclear industry patrons to keep offering big payoffs to state officials and Nevada voters in hopes of buying our support for this deeply flawed project. In an era in which virtually everyone and everything is for sale, they may succeed but I trust Nevadans to place the health and safety of their children and grandchildren above the almighty dollar. It's our decision.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former US. diplomat, resides in Carson City.