A tale of two Yucca Mountains
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ... ."
The famous opening line in Charles Dickensū classic novel, "A Tale of Two Cities," speaks to the extreme dichotomies that make up our experience of the world - and of a particular place and time - and how oneūs experience depends very much oneūs vantage point.
Recent news articles regarding a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Business and Economic Research report on supposed economic benefits of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump for Southern Nevada present the State of Nevada with an example of economic polarity with some Dickensonian characteristics.
On the one hand, there is a UNLV report that paints a rosy picture of jobs and revenue to be derived from an otherwise noxious and unwanted facility - something akin to making a silk purse out of the proverbial sowūs ear. On the other hand is another report, done just two years earlier by the same UNLV group, which depicts the economic impacts of Yucca Mountain in an extraordinarily negative, even disastrous, light.
So how is it that the UNLV people can see Yucca Mountain as both the best of times and the worst of times - at the same time? In the words of another famous, albeit anonymous, observer of human folly, "Follow the money." The report painting the bright economic picture was paid for by the U.S. Department of Energyūs Yucca Mountain project. The report showing the serious economic risks and costs of the federal program was commissioned and sponsored by the Clark County Nuclear Waste Division as part of the countyūs assessment of Yucca impacts.
In the overly rosy report prepared for DOE, UNLV concluded that not only was Yucca Mountain good for Nevadaūs economy in the long run, but to halt the project now would mean that economic losses to the current economy "would be substantial."
By contrast, in the report paid for by Clark County, the same UNLV folks warned, "The transportation of nuclear waste [even] without an accident or spillage of radioactive material through a large urban community will have adverse impacts on a community such as Las Vegas which depends on travel and tourism for its economic livelihood. The maximum economic impact of a transportation accident is devastating to any community, especially one which depends upon travel and tourism as its economic engine."
So which is right? You be the judge. In the DOE report, UNLV concluded that Yucca Mountain would bring 3,650 jobs to Nevada, accounting for an average of $131 million per year in additional real disposable income. In the 2001 Clark County report, however, UNLV found that, even in a scenario where no transportation accidents occur, Yucca Mountain would mean a net loss of almost 5,400 jobs and an annual loss of disposable income of $282 million. In the event of a serious shipping accident, more than 50,000 jobs could be lost due to the resultant disruption to the areaūs economy, with an average annual drop in disposable income of $686 million.
Property values along transportation routes are projected to decrease an average of 3.5 percent in Clark County, even without an accident occurring. In the event of an accident or serious incident, losses in real market value could be between $5.6 billion and $8.8 billion just in Cark County, with additional declines in Washoe and Elko counties of $2 billion and $129 million respectively.
The tale told by the Clark County report is a far more accurate portrayal of how Yucca Mountain will impact Nevada than the unrealistically rosy picture painted by the DOE-funded study. Reams of research by the State of Nevada and independent social scientists and economists from around the country have consistently found that the costs and risks of the Yucca Mountain project far outweigh any transient economic and employment benefits that might accrue from the program.
The unanswered question in all of this is why UNLV didnūt attempt to factor the findings of the report it did for the county into the DOE report. The answer seems obvious: You canūt paint a rosy picture when the negative impacts are as great as they are for Yucca Mountain, and DOE was paying for a rosy portrayal.
It is no coincidence that no other state in the country wants the nuclear repository project. And it is no mystery why the federal government is going to such great lengths to jam it down Nevadaūs collective throat. To paraphrase Dickens, it is a far, far better thing to recognize that Yucca Mountain represents an unacceptable and potentially catastrophic risk for Nevada, both in terms of the negative impacts for Nevadaūs economy and to the health and safety of its citizens, and to continue the fight to assure this facility never sees the light of day.