Opinion Article Submitted to Nevada Appeal
Thursday, December 01, 2011

Nevada Needs to Remain Prepared for Possible Yucca Revival

By Richard H. Bryan

In his November 11th guest column, Chuck Muth complained that the state of Nevada is unnecessarily spending money to make sure that the defunct Yucca Mountain project stays dead. If the project is truly dead, Mr. Muth argues, why do we need a state agency to protect the state's interests?

The answer is simple: There are powerful interests in Congress, the nuclear industry, and elsewhere that would like to see Yucca resurrected, Lazarus-like, from the graveyard reserved for failed federal projects like this one. Make no mistake about it - these powerful interests are doing everything they can to make that happen.

Yucca Mountain is moribund because President Obama is keeping a campaign promise to end the project, and Sen. Reid has thus far been successful in stopping the flow of dollars. However, the states of Washington and South Carolina, supported by nuclear power and electric utility interests, have sued in federal court to reverse the decision to terminate the project. Powerful committee chairmen in the U.S. House of Representatives are actively seeking to revive the program by restoring funding.

Ironically, at a time when Nevada is closer than ever to seeing the Yucca project terminated, some Nevada elected officials are encouraging the 'bring back Yucca' crowd. Recent misinformed media statements suggesting Yucca Mountain be used for spent nuclear storage, reprocessing, and research, only further encourage efforts to revive the unsafe repository project.

This is emphatically not the time for Nevada to let its guard down by dismantling the state agency responsible for protecting the interests of the state, its citizens and communities. The Agency for Nuclear Projects, which Mr. Muth is so quick to criticize, has been on the front lines in the decades-long fight to oppose attempts to force this unnecessary and unacceptably dangerous project on Nevada.

The Agency, in conjunction with the Nevada Attorney General, has lodged more than 220 technical challenges to DOE's license application pending before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Should Yucca proponents be successful in getting funding restored for the project, it will be the Agency for Nuclear Projects that must provide technical information and expert witnesses essential for successfully defeating the application. The Agency is also responsible for responding to the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission's final recommendation, due in January 2012, on alternatives to Yucca Mountain.

The Agency has acted responsibly and in the best interests of Nevada and its citizens, by downsizing while retaining needed technical knowledge and expertise. Over the past two biennia, the Agency has reduced its budget by more than 60%, and staffing levels are down from seven to just four. To save more money, the Agency eliminated another key position (that of the Planning Division Administrator) and replaced it with a contract for essential services that saves the Agency and the state about $100,000 per year. Governor Sandoval and Secretary of State Miller are to be commended for approving this fiscally responsible request at the last Board of Examiners meeting.

With victory so close, Nevada must not now be seen as weakening its resolve by dismantling the Agency at the forefront of the fight or by appearing to welcome other nuclear facilities that are more dangerous and environmentally polluting than even a geologic repository.

Richard Bryan is chairman of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects. He is a former U.S. Senator, Nevada Governor, Attorney General and state legislator.