'Sweet' victory savored

"How sweet it is. How sweet it is. And it really is."

That's how former Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan, a long-time foe of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, opened his "keynote eulogy" Tuesday night at the project's mock wake at the Palms. Bryan pumped his fists in victory as more than 100 anti-Yucca activists cheered and the "Rocky" movie theme blared inside the ghostbar at the top of the resort.

"Let's hear it for Nevadans because today is a day to celebrate a victory," Bryan said.

The cause for celebration was the Department of Energy's recent withdrawal of its application to build what he and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., often referred to over the past few decades as "the dump."

Bryan credited Reid with "driving the silver stake into the heart" of the project to entomb the nation's most deadly nuclear waste inside the mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

While the crowd roared and drinks flowed, Bryan reminded the audience that the specter of more litigation looms. But with DOE throwing in the towel, it's certainly a time to celebrate, he said.

He also reflected on some memorable moments in the fight against the dump.

There was, for example, the infamous "Screw Nevada Bill," in which Congress saddled the state with hosting a place to bury the nation's spent nuclear fuel from commercial power reactors and highly radioactive defense waste.

There was the "ill-conceived" public relations campaign by the nuclear industry that featured a commercial with a would-be scientist holding mock nuclear fuel pellets as if they were harmless.

That was followed by a proposal to pay Nevadans for accepting nuclear waste to the state.

"If there would only be a nuclear pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Bryan scoffed.

"It really is a victory for all of us, because Nevadans as (former governor) Grant Sawyer said, hung tough," Bryan said.

Nuclear Waste Task Force director Judy Treichel said the legal strategy "has been absolutely unbeatable" thanks largely to the late Joe Egan, who orchestrated it, and then arranged to have his ashes scattered over the mountain, vowing that radioactive waste would be buried there only under his dead body, she said.

Former Citizen Alert director Peggy Maze Johnson thanked the Western Shoshone and Paiute tribes for their persistence in opposing the project from the beginning.

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, the senator's son, said Tuesday night that the Yucca Mountain Project wake "is the happiest funeral I've ever attended."

But not all former politicians from the state were so thrilled.

One former Nevada governor who wasn't invited to the wake, Robert List, cautioned that it might be premature for the state's anti-Yucca factions to celebrate.

"To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of his death are greatly exaggerated," List said, referring to the project.

With opposition expected to the DOE's motion to withdraw the construction request before a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing panel, the issue "certainly has not totally played out," he said Tuesday.

"There are intervenors who are going to opposes that motion. I imagine there is going to be a fight before the NRC and whoever loses is going to take it to court for a judicial review," List said. "Anything can happen here."

List, who was a consultant for several years to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the lobbying arm of the nuclear power industry, currently represents four rural Nevada counties on Yucca Mountain issues -- Churchill, Esmeralda, Lander and Mineral. His objective is to ensure that any adverse effects from hosting a repository at Yucca Mountain are mitigated and any benefits are maximized.

"I'm hearing more and more Nevadans in this economic time saying we should be talking about the project in a more positive way," he said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.