The Texas Connection

In 1982, the State of Texas took a political turn with the election of Mark White to the governorship. Two Texans who filled posts in White's administration have come to have special meaning in relation to nuclear energy policy and Yucca Mountain. Steve Frishman, appointed director of the Texas Governor's Nuclear Waste Program Office in the early 80s, and Jim Hightower, elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 1982, have been instrumental in delaying the study and building of a national nuclear waste facility.

The most well known on the national scene of the two Texans is Jim Hightower. A nationally known liberal-progressive with populist appeal, Hightower used his position as Agriculture Commissioner during the mid eighties to create a political fiefdom within the state of Texas. Hightower was dethroned from his commissioner position in the 1990 election, but has remained highly visible in Democratic politics nationally and appears to be attempting to build a national platform of his own by running his own national radio talk show.

Steve Frishman is now a consultant to the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office as a geologist. Frishman's primary duties at NWPO, however, seem to be political advocacy against the nuclear waste repository program, having now been in opposition to both the Deaf Smith site in Texas and Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The progressive politics of Frishman and Hightower are similar to that espoused by the professional anti-nuclear environmental lobbyists of the Washington Beltway. In fact, Hightower now sits on the board of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, parent to Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project. Thus, the progressive politics and anti-nuclearism of Frishman and Hightower help set the stage for understanding the politics of the larger anti-nuclear movement.


In 1975, while a lobbyist in Washington D.C., Jim Hightower authored "Eat Your Heart Out; Food Profiteering In America", which indicted big agricultural companies and food wholesalers as unscrupulous. Steve Frishman, who served as director of the Texas Governor's Nuclear Waste Program Office during Democratic Governor White's term, moved to the Nevada program in 1987. Frishman served during the early years of the Hightower transformation of the Texas Agriculture Department and must have learned immensely from the experience.

Jim Hightower's progressive populism mixes with nuclear politic in Nevada in a Viewpoint article written in 1987 for the Safe Energy Communication Council, the premier Washington anti-nuclear coalition. Titled "Restoring Our Confidence In Our Nuclear Waste Program", the article uses the same arguments later used in Nevada to attempt to convince people that storage of nuclear waste is impossibly dangerous.

Even if DOE were out of the picture, the disposal of radioactive waste in the ground using current technology is a risky one. Chances are, over the millenia, radiation would get out of the canisters. The only question is how far it would travel through the rock, at what speed, and how much damage it would wreak. . . .

Even without a nuclear waste accident, the economy of the Texas Panhandle, or of any other vibrant area chosen as a dumpsite, would be destroyed. . .

However disturbing, the Texas experience with DOE's waste program is not unique. There is little evidence that DOE seriously considered the safety or economic impact of a waste dump in any of the potential waste repository states.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined that wastes can be successfully stored in water basins at the plant that produced them for at least 30 years beyond the expiration of a reactor's operating license. Dry waste storage technologies would allow waste to be stored on-site even longer. By shoring up temporary on-site storage facilities, we can buy the time necessary to examine the options for permanent waste disposal. [Hightower, Jim; "Restoring Confidence In Our Nuclear Waste Program", Viewpoint, Safe Energy Communication Council,1987]

Hightowers argument for indefinite delay of burial of high-level nuclear waste parrots the views of the Safe Energy Communications Council's position, and curiously parallels the position of theNevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. Jim Hightower is presently a board member of Public Citizen, the Nader organization that parented numerous anti-nuclear organizations including the Safe Energy Communication Council.

Some history of the Texas nuclear repository characterization and the political fallout that occurred is helpful in putting this all in perspective. Luther Carter's account in the Nuclear Imperative is again a good source on what happened in Texas and how the political machinations there mesh with events at Yucca Mountain.

The Department of Energy's siting investigation on the Texas High Plains has been taking place in Swisher and Deaf Smith counties in the Permian Basin's Palo Duro subbasin. . . . The lifeblood of the region is has confided to me his view that a critical factor in turning public attitudes against the siting effort has been the "unrelieved negativism" of state officials. "They have reinforced and confirmed the worst dreads expressed by any of the local opposition," he said. "With no holding back, very quickly a frenzy of demagoguery develops, much like the theatrics of domestic war propaganda except in this case DOE and nuclear waste are the evil. Fear and negativism are easily reinforced without a continuous voice of moderation." But in truth, this does the state officials less than justice. According to his aids, Governor Mark White, knowing that Texas may need the help of Congress to keep a repository out of the Palo Durao subbasin, was somewhat restrained for tactical reasons and chose to find fault with the siting process rather than to declare DOE's interest in Palo Duro flatly unacceptable. The Texas commissioner of agriculture, Jim Hightower, has not felt so constrained. But even his comments have centered on what he not unreasonably perceives as a major land-use conflict. For instance, Hightower told a DOE hearing that, "for me, and for the agricultural community of this state, location of the nuclear dump site in the Panhandle really is not a technical issue at all. It's a human issue, an economic, cultural and moral issue . . . you could save us a lot of money, trouble, and time if we can just agree right now that prime agricultural land and a major fresh water aquifer is not a suitable site for a nuclear waste repository. [Carter, Luther; Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust, Resources For The Future, 1987, p153]

Jim Hightower's anti-agribusiness populism may have led him to similarly demonize nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal in Texas as part of a broader populist Green Revolution than because the Deaf Smith site was particularly dangerous. The DOE felt there was not enough fluid pressure in the underlying strata to push radioactive material up into the Ogallala aquifer even if it were breached. Hightower apparently feels the technological safety of projects like a nuclear repository are of little importance compared to the political perceptions of risk. However, broad application of such a philosophy would make it impossible for any technolog to proceed because there is always a perceived risk held by some local residents to every technology.

If nuclear energy, coal energy, automobile manufacturing, etc. are all deemed "a human issue, an economic, cultural and even moral issue," as Hightower's philosophy assumes, then each of these technologies could be terminated by popular movements. The claim that these technologies are uneconomic, amoral and anti-cultural is already made regularly, though it is anyone's guess how these traits could be evaluated objectively.

The larger question is whether Hightower and others in the anti-nuclear opposition are basing their conclusions on the technical merits of the repository program, or whether this is purely a philosophical disagreement. If all large technological endeavors are sinister, whether it is agribusiness in Texas or the disposal of nuclear waste in Texas or Nevada, then the debate over Yucca Mountain is pointless. This would imply that most, if not all, of the scientific criticism leveled by Hightower, Frishman, Bob Loux, Judy Treichel etc. is dishonest. In their view, scientific integrity may well be secondary to their efforts to push a Green Revolution which rejects all technological innovation.

A final quote from Carter is instructive because it shows how the Texas anti-repository movement linked to Nevada:

More recently, the Holly Sugar Corporation, a major producer of beet sugar on the Texas High Plains, has given a $10,000 donation to the Nuclear Waste Task Force, a regional umbrella group for local groups such as POWER and Stand.

Judy Treichel's Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force was a similar outgrowth of this larger, well organized effort to derail nuclear energy.


Bob Loux's connection to Steve Frishman began at one of the many nuclear waste conferences they attended during the early eighties; they later collaborated on various reports together. When Governor Mark White was removed from office in 1988, Loux was on hand to offer Frishman a lucrative consulting position with NWPO:


The former head of Texas' nuclear waste office could eventually be awarded a $65,000 contract as a geologist for Nevada's nuclear waste program, said Bob Loux, executive director of Nevada's Nuclear Projects Agency.

Steve Frishman was head of the Texas Nuclear Waste Programs Office but resigned Aug. 11 because of differences with Republican Gov. Bill Clements. Frishman was originally hired by former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat. . . . .

"He knows all the nuances of the program," Loux said. "He'd be very valuable from my perspective." [Las Vegas Review Journal, 8/19/1987,J p5B]

Loux and Frishman together have combined to transform the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office into a progressive agency remarkably similar to Hightower's Texas Agriculture Department. Frishman's experience in Texas during the White administration is reflected in the way NWPO now reacts as an independent political entity, devising its own strategy and public relations.

Frishman was hired by NWPO as a geologist, however technical advice does not seem to be a major part of his job duties. Indeed, Frishman spends significant amounts of time traveling the state and nation with Judy Treichel to build opposition to Yucca Mountain. At a meeting of Citizen's against Nuclear Waste In Nevada (CAN-WIN), June 29, 1993, during the critical final days of Nevada's 1993 legislature, Frishman demonstrated his lobbying abilities:

FRISHMAN: The sites were picked on a political basis, a political game that's only gotten worse. . . Nevada is under siege by the nuclear industry, which has spent about $10 million. What they planned to get was a revocation of the Nevada legislature's 1989 law rejecting Yucca Mountain. Now they just want a crack, that citizens will exchange money for negotiating.

I was born in Washington D.C., but lived the last half of my life in the West. As citizens of the West, we are feeding back that Yucca Mountain is not going to happen.

"This is not all about nuclear waste. It's all about, among other things, how the East treats the West."

You can hear the ANEC ads on the radio about every ten minutes. The American Nuclear Energy Council for some reason thinks we are for sale. It's a waste of our legislators time to even deal with this. We must oppose being the only state to accept the site. The site was selected not for its geology, but because the Nevada Test Site is already contaminated. We're not adding a little to a little at the NTS. We're adding a lot to a lot.

"CAN-WIN has not been very active in this part of the state. But citizen action does make a difference, it makes a very large difference. Our legislators won't act without it."

"A small digression, I used to own a small weekly newspaper in a relatively small town in Texas. What incensed me was that when people would get elected to city council or county commissioner, and they started doing things we all wondered about. They'd say, 'well you elected me to do what was right'. No, we elected you to do what we want"

Nevadans no longer support nuclear testing. If Nevadans were strong in their support, you wouldn't have the Clinton administration changing its position in the last week to 'we may test, but we won't test first'. Well, that's a lot better than it was a week ago.

"Now, if you look at Yucca Mountain, we're getting the Clinton administration to finally realize that Yucca Mountain first of all is a major health and safety problem and Yucca Mountain second is a problem for the economy of the state. . .

"Third, this is what we're slowly bringing to the surface in the White House and it's the one thing that may have merit in terms of our own lifetimes, is that Yucca Mountain is undemocratic. And the White House is beginning to get a sense of this. And the only way to get that is through the participants of democracy sitting here."

"Keep on with it. Make CAN-WIN strong. Make Citizen Alert strong. Make any citizen organization and any individual citizen who feels that the thrusting of greatness of nuclear waste on the state of Nevada is absolutely the wrong thing for the state, especially if we're not willing to participate and if the generators of the waste assume we're volunteering." [break]

[In response to a question about how to stop Yucca Mountain] "The effort the state is making, the effort that local organizations are making including CAN-WIN and Citizen Alert. The effort that national organizations are making right now to get the attention of the White House that we need to undertake an overall policy review of what we do with nuclear waste in this country. For years we've been classifying them wrong, not classifying them by their level of danger or risks but by where they came from. . . We've been politically pushing on the White House on this very high level policy review, which may say, could say, that geologic storage in the near future is not the right thing to do."

It appears Frishman's real job is the influencing of local and national political policy in regard to nuclear waste disposal. This is outside NWPO's mandate, showing again that the agency's prime directive seems to be obstruction of the repository rather than oversight. Frishman is admitting to being a lobbyist with the Clinton administration, not only against Yucca Mountain, but against the Nevada Test Site as well. Of course, Frishman has also admitted he similarly opposed the Deaf Smith repository:

"As far as my views on the Deaf Smith site, it was from a technical and economic standpoint, judged by me, and the governor, and most elected officials in the state as unwanted. It would have been placed beneath the aquifer, a primary water source in the high Texas plains. Deaf Smith County has the second highest agricultural production of any county in the country. [KDWN Radio, "Yucca Mountain: Fact Not Fiction", sponsored by NWPO, Jan. 4, 1994]

Whether or not Deaf Smith was the perfect repository candidate (the situation was much more complex than Frishman presented), certain things are clear:

  1. One of the reasons forced siting is occurring at Yucca Mountain is because of the success of Hightower, Frishman and others in politicizing and derailing the study of the Texas site. If Yucca Mountain was chosen for political reasons, Frishman and Hightower were the seed of many of those considerations.
  2. It is unlikely any repository could pass muster with Frishman. Moreover, with a $100,000 a year Nevada contract to oppose the site, Frishman has little incentive to change his position.
  3. Frishman's motives for opposing Yucca Mountain are driven as much by anti-Test-Site and populist sentiments as technological reasons.

In short, the motives of Hightower, Frishman, and others within the repository opposition are an extremely complex hybrid of self interest, and ideology in which technical considerations are secondary. This tension between progressive philosophical perspectives and objective science is unlikely to help resolve the technical dilemma of nuclear waste disposal.