Group says state owns Yucca

By JUSTIN POST, Staff Writer

ELKO -- The state of Nevada owns the proposed site of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste repository and the federal government has no right claiming stake to the property, Elko residents were told Thursday night.

That was the message to approximately 35 people from throughout the state who attended a meeting of the Committee for Full Statehood at the Bull Pen in the Stockmen's Casino and Hotel.

"The feds have no right to any jurisdiction," said O.Q. "Chris" Johnson, committee chairman.

He urged the group to write letters and spread word about the matter.

"I think everyone needs to know what we are talking about and approach the legislative council and let them know we are watching them," Johnson said. "We need to keep up a barrage of letters and phone calls informing them of their mistakes and hopefully we will have some results."

Believing the effort would attract national news coverage, the group will consider organizing an eight- to 10-day cattle drive across the state, en route to the 64th annual Nevada Day Parade slated Oct. 26 in Carson City.

"Why don't we get the legislative council and drive them," Christopher Hansen of Henderson joked.

In the end, lobbying the state legislature might be the group's strongest tool in its fight for ownership of Yucca Mountain, said David Schumann of Minden. The committee has enough manpower, he believes, to lobby the representatives during the next 120-day legislative session which begins in 2003.

The legislature has ignored the ownership issue, Johnson said.

"We waive our rights to sovereignty if we don't recognize it ourselves and if we can't get our legislature to recognize it as it is: Yucca is sitting on land being managed by the feds and is owned by the state of Nevada and deserves to be under the control of the legislature and the state of Nevada," Johnson said.

Because the state could recycle the waste for resale, owning the site would be a boon for Nevada, he added.

"That would be a greater financial boon than the gambling halls or the gold mine," Johnson said.

However, many Nevadans are leery of transporting the radioactive waste, regardless of the money it could generate.

On the other hand, the radioactive material which has created the scuttlebutt is regularly transported to nuclear facilities throughout the country without accidents, Schumann, a Pennsylvania native, said.

"I have never heard of a transportation accident and this stuff is all over the place," he said. "New York has reactors, Pennsylvania has reactors and this stuff has been getting there for 50 years."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some people believe that transporting the waste could be risky.

U.S. Senators Harry Reid, the assistant majority leader, and John Ensign requested this week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission provide all information at their disposal of transportation records of past nuclear waste shipments.

The government estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 truck shipments or 10,000 to 20,000 rail shipments and nearly 1,600 barge shipments would be required to transport the high-level nuclear waste to the proposed Yucca Mountain repository near Las Vegas.

Still, the spent fuel would be "extremely valuable" if the state of Nevada owned the Yucca Mountain facility, said Steven Miller, managing editor of the Nevada Policy Research Institute -- a free-market think tank based in Las Vegas.

But procuring ownership would be tough.

"Nevada has never owned (Yucca Mountain)," he said, adding that by the time Nevada entered the union on Oct. 31, 1864, during the Civil War, congress was asserting conditions for statehood such as relinquishing land to the federal government.

"That is what happened in Nevada," Miller said. "Republicans wanted to use the federal government to promote pork."

Now, the feds own approximately 87 percent of the state, he said.

"That reduces Nevada to a few little spots," Miller said. "There is a whole issue of who owns "public lands" and it appears that the Supreme Court has allowed western states to be treated with a lesser standard of sovereignty than other states."

Winning state ownership of Yucca Mountain would require a "strong attorney general fighting for it," he said.

Miller doubts Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa could get the job done.

"Del Papa would never fight for (Yucca Mountain) on behalf of the state," he said.

In 1975, the state legislature had asked the feds to build a nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada to generate jobs, but later passed a law asserting ownership over all land in the state, Miller said.

"Del Papa sabotaged that law and in fact sided with the federal government," he said. "My sense of the odds is that Nevada will not win."