May 9, 2002
We expected a lopsided House of Representatives vote on
Yucca Mountain and we got one. But even months of anticipation
hardly prepares you for the final moment when 306 leaders from
throughout the country cast a vote laced with so much
potential for harm. If this potential was confined to Nevada
the vote could be explained on the insidious theory that
lawmakers valued a nuclear waste solution -- not a sound
solution but a solution nonetheless -- over one sparsely
But with the waste destined for precarious travel through
43 states, can it be said they valued the solution more than
safety in practically the whole country? What other
explanation can there be for the House voting 306 to 117 to
proceed with Yucca Mountain? If this burial site 90 miles
northwest of Las Vegas is approved by the Senate this summer,
it means that a miracle will be needed (such as federal
officials suddenly recognizing the plan's flaws) to prevent a
minimum of 77,000 tons of nuclear waste riding the nation's
rails and highways round-the-clock for a minimum of 24 years
beginning in 2010.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Tuesday urged his
colleagues to vote yes on Yucca Mountain, giving as his
reasons "the current hodgepodge" of storage sites at nuclear
plants (including 11 in his state) and the fact that Yucca
Mountain is a "scientifically proven safe single storage
facility." Wrong on both counts.
With the nuclear industry currently producing 2,000 tons of
waste a year, there will always -- for as long as nuclear
plants are operating -- be a hodgepodge of storage sites.
There will never be a time when nuclear plants are free of
waste. Additionally, since when has Yucca Mountain been
scientifically proven as safe? Hastert did not mention the
ground water danger and the need for 100,000 years of geologic
stability in an area that is the third most seismically active
in the nation. Just 10 years ago a magnitude 5.6 earthquake
took place eight miles southeast of Yucca Mountain, rattling
homes and hotels in Las Vegas. Since 1976 there have been 621
earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater within a 50-mile
radius of Yucca Mountain. The notion that this area will
safely contain the world's deadliest material for 100,000
years is absurd. Finally, Hastert made no mention of the 293
technical and scientific issues concerning Yucca Mountain that
government scientists have as yet been unable to resolve.
Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.,
warned their colleagues during many pre-vote forums of the
dangers Yucca represents to Nevada and the nation.
Nevertheless, the political momentum of this solution driven
by the nuclear power industry was too much to overcome in the
Republican-dominated House. The representatives who voted for
this measure will have some explaining to do when the
inevitable accident or possible terrorist attack takes place
in their districts. Every inch of the transportation route is
a catastrophe waiting to happen.
The U.S. Senate vote on Yucca coming up this summer
represents the last chance in Congress to stop this terribly
flawed plan. Nevada is making a gallant effort to educate
senators and the nation of the extreme dangers associated with
the burial itself and the transportation. Nevada and the
country can still win if people can, just for a few minutes,
stop what they're doing and "hear that train a-comin'."
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