Nevada Appeal

Nevada Appeal
Thursday, April 22, 2004


Yucca Mountain tradeoff short-sighted

It's hard to begrudge Caliente its shot at success. After all, the town in southeastern Nevada is listed by some folks as a "ghost town," even though more than 1,100 people live there.

It has a beautiful, two-story, mission-style railroad depot, a testament to its days as a railroad town. The Union Pacific still passes through it.

"Unfortunately," as a travel writer noted, "the train doesn't stop in Caliente anymore."

Caliente's mayor, Kevin Phillips, would like to change that. Specifically, he would like the federal Department of Energy to build a railroad maintenance center, transportation operations center and maintenance site for casks carrying nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

In other words, what's bad for Nevada could be good for Caliente.

Most people in the state don't want the nation's highly radioactive nuclear waste shipped to Nevada. They see flawed science, broken promises and long-term threats to residents' health.

But some people like Phillips see opportunity. They are actively courting the waste shipments or, at the least, believe the Yucca Mountain project is inevitable They plan to be in position to gain the economic benefits.

Residents of Caliente, just like a host of other Nevada towns, should be familiar with the history of a state where boom-and-bust cycles are the rule rather than the exception.

Landing 100 or so jobs in Caliente is hardly a fair trade for thousands of years of radioactive waste. Of course, jobs and construction associated with Yucca Mountain would go far beyond one little Nevada town. But the long-term effects are nevertheless over whelming.

It's difficult not to think of Virginia City during the bonanza years and the irony of its legacy -- that the silver from its mines built San Francisco. Or that the mercury left behind makes the Carson River, more than 100 years later, a polluted stream.

Maybe Yucca Mountain is inevitable, and the mayor of Caliente is doing what he thinks is best for the town. Here's what's truly inevitable: If the waste comes, it'll still be buried in the Nevada desert many generations after the jobs have come and gone.