Elko Daily Free Press

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Ex-Nevada governor says Yucca coming, so take the money

By ADELLA HARDING, Daily Free Press Staff Writer

ELKO -- Former Nevada Gov. Robert List said Friday Yucca Mountain it's almost inevitable that Yucca Mountain will become the nation's nuclear waste storage site so Nevada should focus on economic benefits from having the waste in the state.

"There is a huge mood swing. I'm seeing people becoming more and more resigned to the political realities," the Yucca Mountain proponent said after speaking to roughly 100 people at the Mini-Conference sponsored by the Northeastern Nevada Section of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

A show of hands during his speech showed that the majority of those at the lunch believe Nevada will lose its battle against Yucca Mountain. Far fewer raised their hands when he asked how many wanted it to happen, however.

The House has already passed a resolution overriding Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of President Bush's decision to proceed with Yucca Mountain, and List said "it looks like it will go to the full Senate by the end of July."

He said whether Nevada likes it or not, Yucca Mountain will be thrust upon the state, and it will be the "largest public works project on this planet."

The project cost will total roughly $60 billion, said List, who was governor from 1978 to 1982.

"It's massive. It's an incredible amount of money, and much of it is being spent in Nevada," List said.

He said already Yucca Mountain provides 1,400 jobs in southern Nevada, and "the payroll will swell by many-fold," when the project actually gets the green light.

U.S. Department of Energy grants already have helped the University of Nevada at Reno and at Las Vegas, and the university system should be able to capture money of the money, List told the audience.

He said he took a job as lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute to improve communications between the nuclear energy industry and Nevada, rather than to promote Yucca Mountain as the nuclear waste site.

"I began on their behalf to build bridges," List said, adding that he felt the Yucca Mountain site was inevitable so Nevada should "make these lemons into lemonade."

He said, for example, Nevada should insist on the federal government giving the state more land to broaden its tax base to help solve Nevada's education funding problems.

"Here's a 900-pound gorilla that can be our savior," said List, who describes himself as a realist.

He also said he believes Nevada should insist on a royalty on any nuclear waste stored in the state because someday it may be reprocessed and used again.

In answer to a question, List said the idea of each resident receiving a settlement for having the waste stored in their state has been talked about, just as Alaskans received $1,800 each for allowing the Alaskan pipeline in their state.

Another idea has been a "level of forgiveness on income taxes," he said.

List said, however, that Guinn is doing the right thing in fighting against Yucca Mountain, because he is speaking for the people and the health and welfare of the people of the state.

Nevada's lawmakers also have little choice but to fight against Yucca Mountain because at least three-quarters of those polled opposed having the nuclear waste stored in the state, List said.

"I respect what they are doing," he said. "It's my belief, though, that the handwriting has begun to emerge."

He said, however, that he was surprised to hear public officials talking about a proposal that nuclear weapons be brought to the Nevada Test Site to be disassembled, when the state opposes have nuclear waste stored in the vicinity.

"We're talking about substances that are known to explode," he said about the weapons idea.

After his speech, List said in a short interview that DOE still has 293 issues to address about Yucca Mountain and must do so to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He said, however, that DOE wasn't expecting to address all those issues in its environmental impact statement on the project because it dealt with land issues, not issues such as transportation of nuclear waste across the country.

A day before List's speech, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham acknowledged that Yucca Mountain would be too small to accommodate all the nation's nuclear waste and might have to be expanded.

According to Associated Press, Abraham conceded to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that the site could handle only a fraction of the waste expected to be generated by commercial power plants and the government in the coming decade.

"Thousands of tons "of this stuff is still going to be (stored) around the country, Ensign told Abraham, who agreed this would be the case.

Yucca Mountain is limited under its current design to 77,000 tons of waste, but Abraham said a future energy secretary could consider expansion after 2007.