Oral history records 'lessons learned' in Yucca Mountain fight

WASHINGTON -- With the Yucca Mountain program seeming to grow smaller in Nevada's rearview mirror, veterans of the nuclear waste wars are compiling oral histories to preserve recollections of the long and controversial repository battle with the federal government.

One such "lessons learned" venture has gone live in Eureka County. It contains transcripts and video of interviews with two dozen residents, local and state officials, consultants and activists.

The enterprise, put together with about $50,000 in federal funds given to the county for Yucca Mountain activities, can be found at yuccamountain.org/lesson.htm.

The project focused on the grass roots, said Abby Johnson, Eureka County's nuclear waste consultant.

"We chose not to do a top-down approach," she said. "Other people can interview the senators and the governors, but nobody else is going to interview people in Crescent Valley."

The Yucca project, which would have transported more than 70,000 tons of high level nuclear waste for storage and eventual burial in the mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, prompted more than 20 years of legal and political battles between the state and the Department of Energy. President Barack Obama canceled the effort after he took office.

Johnson said a surprising thread emerged from the inter­views she conducted. In the view of rural Nevadans, the Yucca project was haunted from the start by memories of the atomic bomb detonations at the Nevada Test Site that poisoned thousands of down­winders, soldiers and site workers, and government cover-ups of the tragic impacts.

"I think if you wanted to pick the worst spot to put a (nuclear) repository, it would be to the place where the same guys with different hats came and did an irresponsible job and lied, and then go back to the same place and try to do it again. It was almost ironic," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Clark County is preparing to release a hundred-page report on its experience with Yucca Mountain, according to county emergency manager Irene Navis. A 46-minute video segment of the report can been seen online at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=omMIEQl7p5U.

Navis said county leaders wanted to memorialize studies of how the nuclear waste project would affect Southern Nevada, and the strategies they formed to inform the public about it. The road map, of sorts, is intended to guide local officials if the Yucca program or something like it resurfaces.

"Because we don't know if we are going to have to address it again, we wanted to leave something behind for future program managers who may have to deal with oversight of a Yucca Mountain-like program in the future," Navis said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.