POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Group seeks funding for nuclear energy research park

Directors of a Reno group that wants to establish a nuclear energy research park at the Nevada National Security Site were knocking on doors in Washington last week in an attempt to nurture the idea.

Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy is trying to obtain a couple million dollars in seed money out of Congress. Its task is complicated, though, by technical questions about the plan, lingering fights over Yucca Mountain, and by suspicions in some circles over its motives.

Created in 2009 by five Northern Nevada businessmen, the group envisions creation of a federally funded partnership that would oversee construction of two test-scale nuclear reactors at the Nevada National Security Site to research waste reprocessing methods. The arrangement eventually could lead to the site being utilized for reprocessing of larger volumes of waste that could then be reused in commercial reactors.

The group commissioned a poll in February by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm, that it said showed 62 percent of Nevadans favor the idea "because of jobs and money."

Gene Humphrey, director of Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy, maintained the energy park is distinct from the Yucca Mountain Project that pictured a mountain ridge 100 miles from Las Vegas as a repository complex where nuclear waste would be stored and eventually buried.

One big similarity: Both would involve the controversial action of importing highly radioactive materials, which is what propelled Nevada leaders to fight against the Yucca project for more than two decades.

"I just say (Yucca Mountain) is not an issue. What we are talking about is a new idea. We say in all our literature that permanent storage is not an answer. We have always proposed reprocessing to eliminate the waste," said Humphrey, an engineer and president of International Test Solutions, a Reno company that fabricates semiconductor cleaning products.

Humphrey said the park, which could perform other nuclear waste research, would attract millions of dollars in assignments and create thousands of jobs, making it an engine of the Nevada economy to rival the mining industry.

In Washington, Humphrey and Executive Director Randi Thompson asked House Republicans including Reps. Joe Barton of Texas, Mike Simpson of Idaho and John Shimkus of Illinois if they would be willing to divert some money to the Nevada park from $35 million the GOP has put in an energy and water spending bill in a bid to revive the repository plan.

They also gathered with aides to Nevada Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei. Both have been receptive to new uses for the Yucca site.

"If we could get something into the legislation this year for an expenditure next year, just something small enough to get it organized, we could get a proper plan put together," Humphrey said.

The group is lobbying Congress at an awkward time, however. Any mention of "nuclear" and "Nevada" in the same sentence still triggers strong reactions in the wake of a Yucca Mountain war that some factions on Capitol Hill are waging still.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who engineered the Obama administration's termination of the Yucca repository, remains adamantly opposed to any plan that would bring high-level nuclear waste into the state, aides said Friday.

Likewise, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has told the group he "is not going to spend any political capital" on the park, Humphrey said.

The group also has been accused of being a stalking horse for pro-Yucca interests who still carry a flame for a full-blown repository. Accepting even limited amounts of high-level waste would open the floodgates to thousands of tons more, according to this thinking.

At the same time, groups in New Mexico and Arizona among other places are maneuvering to compete for nuclear waste programs in a post-Yucca era.

State officials have challenged the reprocessing plan, expressing doubt the Nevada National Security Site has enough water and infrastructure to support research that can be done easier elsewhere.

Plus, state leaders believe they are so close to killing the Yucca project entirely that any talk of a new nuclear role for Nevada could muddy the waters.

"We are very close to putting an end to (Yucca Mountain), and so we have to be very careful not to do anything that would represent a weakening of resolve or be perceived as a weakening of resolve," said Bob Halstead, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

"It is unhelpful to have these efforts going on right now, even if they are totally well-intended," Halstead said. "They are unhelpful."

- Steve Tetreault


For Brian Sandoval, being governor of Nevada means being nice to everyone, including a man who referred to him and the state attorney general as "fecal matter."

Sandoval listened quietly and then responded "thank-you" when Reno resident Guy Felton finished his tirade during the public comment portion of a state Board of Prison Commissioners' meeting.

In recent months, a half-dozen people dissatisfied with government, especially with the prison systems and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, have been showing up at public meetings chaired by Sandoval to make their objections public. Some tape their appearances and then post them on YouTube. They also attend and speak, usually twice, during legislative meetings.

But Felton's comments were particularly rude and almost unprecedented for Carson City. He repeatedly called Sandoval and Masto "corrupt" during a five-minute public comment period. Felton is no stranger to using less-than-polite words. In 2009, he was arrested after being accused of sending threatening emails to Washoe County Commissioner David Humke.

Sandoval said Friday that Felton wanted a "confrontation," but he learned in his years as a federal judge that one should not provoke such people.

Felton's appearance Thursday was in support of the efforts of Carson City resident Tonya Brown, who has been waging a 20-year crusade to clear the name of her brother, Nolan Kline, who died at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in September 2009. Brown has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state that alleges her brother did not receive proper medical treatment .

While Brown is passionate in her defense of her brother and regularly protests outside state government buildings, she does not use abusive language. Neither does Ty Robben, a former Internet technology staff member for the state Department of Taxation who has filed a lawsuit over his dismissal.

Several times Thursday, Sandoval told these citizens he had not received letters in which they outline their grievances. Robben said he would give one to the governor's secretary.

- Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.