You talk to Stavros Anthony about the pitfalls of storing the country’s nuclear waste only 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and you end up with growing confidence that good sense will somehow overcome the 2002 act by a Congress that voted with self-interest as its priority.
That action taken 11 years ago, after two decades of lobbying and infighting, kicked the political football squarely into Yucca Mountain. It was the ultimate illustration of lawmakers demonstrating the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality.
Stavros Anthony, of course, is the mayor pro tem of Las Vegas and the city’s Ward 4 councilman, representing a good portion of Summerlin’s residents.
“There are lots of people who don’t know the seriousness of the Yucca Mountain issue,” Anthony said in an interview. He was referring to the fact that Southern Nevada’s population has almost doubled in the 15 years since the state began its intense fight to keep the facility free of 77,000 tons of spent fuel from reactors and other generators of nuclear waste.
“A nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain could have a terrible effect on Summerlin, as well as Henderson, as well as the whole valley, and for that matter the entire state,” he said. “There are too many uncertainties, too many risks.”
The 2002 congressional act directs the Department of Energy to begin a process that would bring the waste to Nevada from every corner of the country. However, a political pingpong game between opponents and supporters has since left the fate of the project in limbo.
That is until last Aug. 13, when a split decision by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement the act, insisting that it remain the law of the land.
Since then the Las Vegas City Council has again emboldened its unanimity in opposition to the dangers of making the huge cavern accessible to the nation’s deadliest waste materials.
Moreover, the state of Nevada Board of Examiners — made up of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state — has reasserted its opposition to the potential threat of Nevada becoming America’s nuclear waste dumping ground by approving a $5 million contract extension with a District of Columbia law firm.
That’s because all of the support to dump the stuff in Nevada has come from lawmakers representing other states.
“Their attitude is that by taking the waste, we would be serving a national interest,” said Anthony. “But we are also a sovereign state with responsibilities to protect our citizens.”
Anthony pointed to three major concerns.
“The first is that they would have to transport the stuff through Las Vegas,” he said. “I’m very concerned about how they would bring these materials from anywhere in the country.
“Think of this scenario: The effects of a train wreck. Hundreds of thousands of people in Clark County could be seriously affected. And think of the effects on tourism, our chief industry in Las Vegas. Think of the potential for radioactive effects on all humans and on the environment.”
Secondly, Anthony referred to the unknown effects of storing the waste at Yucca Mountain.
“There’s no scientific evidence of safe storage, no assurance that any of that stuff won’t leach into our water supply,” he said. “We know that porous rock makes up much of Yucca Mountain. And we know we are as prone to earthquakes as Los Angeles. Storing nuclear waste here would be just as dangerous as storing it in Los Angeles.
“And third, what does Nevada gain from all of this?” Anthony asked. “The state doesn’t get anything, other than fear by our citizens of what all these spent nuclear materials could do to us, like the radioactive effects in case of an earthquake, or a spill, or even a terrorist attack.”
The belief in many high circles is that Anthony’s concerns are on the right track. For example, Forbes magazine said in its Aug. 24 issue, 11 days after the court of appeals decision: “Yucca Mountain may get studied some more. But it will never be used as a permanent nuclear waste storage facility. Too many political, economic and engineering hurdles stand in the way …”
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.