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EDITORIAL: Yucca Mountain politics back in full swing

Energy Secretary Rick Perry played Ivan Pavlov on Tuesday, floating the idea of using the Nevada National Security Site as one of three possible interim storage locations for the nation’s nuclear waste.

Like dogs to the bell, Nevada’s politicians responded with varying levels on indignation and melodrama.

“Secretary Perry’s comments today,” said Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, “are irresponsible, reckless and show a blatant disregard for the state of Nevada.”

Rep. Jackie Rosen, a Democrat, made it known that she is “appalled” — fetch the smelling salts — “to see how tone-deaf this administration is in refusing to listen to the collective voice of an entire state.”

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval insisted that “no part of Nevada will be home to the world’s most toxic waste, and we will fight every effort that puts our citizens at risk.”

By Wednesday, Mr. Perry had shifted into reverse, telling a congressional committee that, “I think it is appropriate to say, there are no plans for interim storage at this particular time in New Mexico, Nevada or Texas or any other site.”

OK. But in the meantime, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1987, the Screw Nevada bill, remains the law of the land and President Trump has included $120 million in his recent budget proposal to restart licensing for the Yucca Mountain project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The undertaking has sat dormant since 2010 when the Obama administration cut its funding as “part of a crude political bargain in which [Harry] Reid agreed to do the president’s dirty work on Capitol Hill if Mr. Obama blocked the nuclear waste repository,” the Wall Street Journal noted last year.

But with Mr. Reid now in retirement, supporters of the project — which include a bipartisan coalition of congressional Republicans and Democrats, most from states that have nuclear power plants — have seized the opportunity.

Make no mistake, Yucca Mountain to date has been a multibillion-dollar boondoggle. The pre-ordained process that resulted in its selection as the nation’s lone nuclear waste repository was a sham designed to target a small state with minimal political clout. Nevadans got screwed.

But for 30 years, it’s been politically expedient for Nevada politicians to rail against the proposal — with varying degrees of conviction, of course — and engage in all sorts of alarmism about everything Yucca. Yet even the most powerful member of Congress in the history of Nevada could succeed in only temporarily shelving the project.

The question that Nevadans should now be asking their representatives is simple: What’s the back-up plan? Pounding fists on the table and yelling “no, no, no” makes for wonderful TV soundbites. But what about the potential for the state and its residents to benefit financially from Yucca Mountain? Money for education and infrastructure development? Tax breaks?

Why is it heresy to investigate what the federal government has to offer? Because if there is no back-up plan to reflexive opposition, there’s a chance that Nevadans will get screwed a second time.

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