RENO -- Nevada should drop its opposition to a proposed nuclear waste repository and welcome the federal money as a way to help solve its budget crisis, business leaders were told at a conference Friday.
Robert Barone, managing partner at Ancora West Advisers, and Thomas Cargill, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, urged U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and other Nevada elected officials to reopen debate on the dump at Yucca Mountain.
They were among panelists who offered a gloomy economic forecast at Directions 2009, an annual economic forum focusing on Northern Nevada.
Barone said he thinks up to 75 percent of Nevadans would support the dump if they knew the state could receive substantial federal money for accepting it.
He noted former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson dropped his opposition of government intervention into the banking industry after determining its benefits.
"Harry Reid can say the same thing: 'Hey, the facts changed. Nevada needs the money. I'm going to change my position,' " said Barone, who also is chairman of the California State Automobile Association.
"It's ridiculous to think it (stored nuclear waste) is dangerous," he added.
Cargill decried what he called the "emotionalism-driven debate" on Yucca Mountain and nuclear energy, and called for an "open and balanced" discussion on the proposed repository.
"I think the governor would be well advised to set up a broad-based commission to study Yucca Mountain and to bring out all the facts and all the pros and cons," Cargill said.
Daniel Burns, spokesman for Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, said no budget crisis could become so bad that it would force the governor to change his position on the waste dump.
"Our opposition to Yucca Mountain has not and will not change," he said Friday. "We are adamantly opposed to Yucca Mountain."
Jon Summers, spokesman for Reid, D-Nev., said other states aren't trying to steal the waste dump from Nevada because there are no real benefits from it.
"It's unfortunate the Nevada GOP and other pro-Yucca Mountain forces are trying to mislead people into thinking they could get something good out of it. It doesn't exist," Summers said.
In December, Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden touted the dump's financial potential after leading 60 members of the party's central committee on a tour of Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Lowden said the repository could help solve Nevada's financial crisis, and the state should consider negotiating for federal benefits for accepting it.
Polls conducted by Nevada newspapers have consistently shown most Nevadans oppose the project.
"Nevadans know a bad bet when they see one, and that is why we continue to overwhelmingly oppose allowing our state to become a nuclear waste dump," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
President Barack Obama has said he doesn't believe the desert site is suitable for keeping highly radioactive used reactor fuel up to a million years and believes other options should be explored.
Reid, the Senate majority leader, has vowed to starve the project of funds.
The Energy Department last June submitted its license request for the dump to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which has three years to consider the request. Supporters hope the site can be opened by 2020.
The long-delayed dump is planned as the first national repository for radioactive waste, and is designed to hold 77,700 tons of used reactor fuel from commercial nuclear power plants in 31 states.