Senator Bryan

Nevada politics have been dominated during the 80's and early 90's by Richard Bryan, who rose from lawyer to State Attorney General, to Governor, to Senator. The consumate political animal, Bryan has spent the majority of his life in politics. Much of his later career has been built out of opposition to Yucca Mountain.

A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, Bryan received his law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Public service began in 1964 when he served as Deputy District Attorney, later becomming Clark County's first public defender. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1968, where he served until 1972 when he traded jobs for the State Senate. Elected Nevada Attorney General in 1978, he served in that position until his election in 1982 as Governor of Nevada, defeating incombent Robert List. Re-elected governor in 1986, Bryan served until 1988 when he defeated Chic Hecht by 1% to become Senator from Nevada.

In 1983 it was Governor Bryan who appointed Robert Loux, a former football star at the University of Nevada Reno and high school history teacher to head the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. Despite a lack of management or technical credentials, Loux became an overnight expert in nuclear engineering. He also became Richard Bryan's frontman for the ensuing decade of debate over Yucca Mountain. Bryan's successor, Governor Miller, retained Loux after Bryan was elected to the senate. However, Governor Miller hasn't actively involve himself in NWPO policy and the state's opposition to Yucca Mountain is still mostly shaped by Richard Bryan's agenda.

Ironically, Bryan seemed to support Yucca Mountain when he was first elected governor in 1982. What brought about his change of heart is unclear, however, he has since exploited anti-nuclear hysteria for political advantage. For example, many Nevadans remember the shipments of radioactive dirt from New Jersey that Governor Bryan blocked in 1985. New Jersey had proposed to ship landfill with slightly elevated levels of radon to Nevada for disposal and Bryan ran an aggressive campaign to stop the radioactive dirt from coming West. His efforts proved successful, although the health of Nevadans never seemed threatened.

In 1987, congress passed the amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which designated Nevada as the sole study site. While the protests of the entire Nevada Congressional delegation were strident, then Governor Bryanwas especially incensed. Bryan blustered that Senator Bennett Johnston's bill to offer $100 million-a-year in compensation 'nuclear blackmail':

"My reaction is Nevada is not for sale," Bryan said. "This would be the equivalent of a federal flash roll that's being dangled before Nevadans with the hope that we will close our eyes, ignore the safety of our citizens, swallow hard and accept the nuclear waste dump." [ Bryan Labels $100 Million-a-Year Deal 'Nuclear Blackmail', Las Vegas Sun, 3/26/87]

Curiously, Bryan has later claimed that no benefits are available from the Federal government in exchange for Nevada's acceptance of the repository. Yet, Bryan was not necessarily against radioactive materials and hazardous waste if there was a political or financial incentive:

Bryan said there is a "critical distinction" between his fight two years ago to stop a train loaded with low-level radioactive dirt from New Jersey coming to Nevada and his support now for the Superconducting Super Collider which will generate 100 tons of low-level radioactive waste each year . . . .

The governor in an interview, said the "critical distinction is there is a helluva difference between taking care of a waste byproduct that is generating technology and in acting as a dump."

Now the state will submit an application next month to the Energy Department to be considered for the $4.4 billion giant atom smasher research project which, in addition to the radioactive waste, will also result in 10,000 gallons of hazardous waste annually. Bryan is strongly backing the application. [Cy Ryan, Bryan sees 'distinction' between collider waste, NJ dirt, Las Vegas Review Journal, 8/11/87 ]

Of course, one of the benefits of acceptance of Yucca Mountain might have been a nuclear studies institute capable of "generating technology", so the Supercollider and the repository both promised to buttress the local technical community. Yet, not only was Bryan prepared to accept the Super Collider, but the state was prepared to spend $300 million to woo the project and its low-level radioactive waste to Nevada:

The state says it is prepared to provide at no cost to the Energy Department the 15,850 acres, an adjacent new community, water and sewer facilities, an upgraded airport capable of handling jets and construction of highways to serve the site. [Ryan, Cy; Nevada Woos Super Collider, Las Vegas Review Journal, 8/29/87, p1A]

Governor Bryan hoped to ride the populist anti-nuclear bandwagon into the senate, which he did by defeating former senator Chic Hecht in 1988 by the narrow margin of 1%. Many feel Bryan squeaked out his slim victory on the back of the Yucca Mountain issue:

Bryan told a group of national reporters that Hecht had failed to help Nevada on a series of issues, including nuclear waste, and the state would be better off with a new senator even though it would lose Hecht's six years of seniority.

"If you can't find the key to the men's room no matter how long you've been back there, there isn't much you can do," Bryan said. [Koenig, Dave; Bryan:Hecht ineffective,'can't find key to men's room', Las Vegas Review Journal, 5/19/88, p1B]

Bryan's stinging portrayal of Hecht as soft on opposing nuclear waste seemed to bear fruit. One of Bryan's ads showed low-level radioactive dirt from New Jersey in a truck passing a school bus, implying the governor had saved the children of the state from being irradiated. However, the New Jersey dirt is an alpha emitter, a type of radiation which can't penetrate a piece of paper, much less the walls of a truck or even the dirt that holds it. Alpha emitters are only dangerous if inhaled or ingested, events unlikely to result from packaged containers whose concentration of alpha emitters was admittedly small. Sources close to this issue suggest Bryan was told the New Jersey dirt was absolutely safe to transport but ignored the information.

The question posed by Bryan's handling of Yucca Mountain and other nuclear issues is whether his interests lie in promoting Nevada or his own political fortunes. An example is Bryan's attempt to pass the Corporate Auto Fuel Emissions (CAFE) bill of 1992 which would have imposed a forty miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard on American cars. Bryan's sponsorship of this bill rubbed powerful congressional delegations from the rust belt auto manufacturing states the wrong way (especially Dingell of Michigan), seriously damaging Nevada's leverage in Congress.


Nevada is a vast, mountainous, desert state where much of the population finds occasion to traverse long stretches of roadway on a regular basis. This is road hog country, meant for big-engined, air-conditioned, 90 mph behemoths of the road that people can stretch out in. Nevada is so sparsely populated that pollution is only a worry in Las Vegas proper, and not nearly to the same extent as L.A. or most large metropolitan areas. CAFE would in effect have mandated small, crash vulnerable vehicles, although Nevada is one of the least likely states to benefit from such a regulation.

Nevertheless, Senator Bryan chose to make CAFE a priority even though Nevadans were more interested in issues like water rights and competition from legalized gambling in other states. Bryan was perhaps influenced by Colorado Senator Timothy Wirth, a cosponsor of Bryan's bill who had long been associated with the Safe Energy Communication Council and other Naderite groups. Some of the allies of the Safe Energy Communication Council had long pushed for 100 mile per gallon downsized cars (notably Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute).

While Bryan is quick to point out the faults and risks of Yucca Mountain, he has been notably shy about allowing CAFE to receive criticism. The Corporate Average Fuel Emissions bill was meant to promote a cleaner environment and ensure the security of America by reducing our foreign oil needs, but has serious safety ramifications. A report in the Journal of Law and Economics puts Senator Bryan's priorities in perspective:


Earlier analyses of the effects of fuel-economy regulation have missed an important point. Fuel economy regulation inevitably leads to smaller, lighter cars that are inherently less safe than the cars that would be produced without a binding fuel economy constraint. We have shown that even if the pursuit of fuel economy were costless to producers, the cost of the added life and serious injury from traffic fatalities would more than offset its benefits in reductions of gasoline consumption for 1989 model year cars. We estimate that these 1989 model year cars will be responsible for 2,000 - 3,900 additional fatalities over the next ten years because of CAFE. Thus, when any discussion of energy conservation focuses upon externalities in energy consumption, we would suggest that all such externalities be included. When safety considerations are included, CAFE appears to be a very costly social policy. [Crandall, R.W. and Graham,J.D.; "The Effect of Fuel Economy Standards on Automobile Safety", Journal of Law & Economics, April 1989, p97]

The Crandall and Graham analysis studied the 500 pound vehicle weight reduction which followed the original introduction of CAFE standards in the early 80s. Senator Bryan's new CAFE standards would raise the fuel efficiency to 40 miles per gallon, a nearly fifty percent increase in mileage. Since most of the straightforward fixes to improve mileage (such as changes in carburetion, more valves, better oils, computerization, streamlining, etc.) have already been tried. Consequently, the primary place to affect change in mileage is in vehicle weight, compromising structural integrity.

Putting this in perspective, Senator Bryan was willing to accept 2,000 to 3,000 more deaths a year to promote automobile energy conservation, while objecting to an estimated risk of death of one-tenth person per year from Yucca Mountain. Over the ten thousand years Yucca Mountain is designed to contain the waste, this amounts to 20,000,000 deaths attributable to Senator Bryan's CAFE bill, versus 1,000 for Yucca Mountain, a ratio of 20,000 to 1.


Part of Senator Bryan's tactic to defeat Yucca Mountain was to claim that Nevada would never see any benefits if the waste repository came to the state. So tied was Bryan to promoting this position that he went to extremes to prevent Nevadans from believing benefits were even possible. Bryan's efforts to preempt benefits was not limited to calling them 'nuclear blackmail'.

The end result of Bryan's having alienated the Senate over the CAFE bill and other issues was that he lost all influence over the Energy Bill of 1992. This bill effectively took away Nevada's last bit of leverage regarding Yucca Mountain. Not content to accept the 84 to 6 defeat of his filibuster of the energy bill in the last hours of the '92 session, Bryan attempted to torpedo the parallel funding bill for the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP).

The Bullfrog County Times (the admittedly pro-nuclear fax attack produced by Altamira advertising) couldn't help but rub salt in the wound when Bryan's filibuster was defeated:


As usual, what we heard from Washington isn't what really happened. And as usual, the truly important facts were left out of the story. Yes, we all know that Sen. Bryan fought to the end, not only against the energy bill, but against a bill that dealt with the WIPP program in New Mexico. WIPP (which stands for Waste Isolation Pilot Project) is designed to find out whether nuclear waste generated in defense programs can be safely stored in salt deposits. Dick Bryan fought like a wildman against the WIPP bill, but not because it had anything to do with Nevada. It didn't. In fact, the energy bill, with its provisions concerning Yucca Mountain, had already passed when Bryan attacked the WIPP bill.

So what was the motive? Well, the WIPP bill contained a provision which will pay the state of New Mexico $431 million over the next 15 years. The payments start at $20 million per year, plus five percent per year for inflation, which would raise the payments to nearly $40 million a year. That's a lot of money for a small state. But WIPP is a small program compatred to the Yucca project. Dick Bryan fought tooth and nail against WIPP. He didn't want New Mexico to get $431 million. And he didn't wast Nevadans to even know about these payments. Why?


Bryan and his pals have been telling Nevadans for years that promises of benefits are illusory. The anti-nuke crowd insists that the government can't be trusted, that there is no money for any benefits, and that even if the money existed, we will never see a [penney of it. New Mexico will get $431 million but Nevada's deficit-plagued state government won't get a cent. We have Dick Bryan to thank for that. [Bullfrog County Times, Volume 1, no. 17, October 1992]


An issue closely related to Yucca Mountain is the future of the Nevada Test Site, which shares land with the repository. Long on the forefront of atomic weapons research, the NTS is now threatened by moratoriums on the testing of nuclear weapons. Future nuclear projects which could takeadvantage of the Test Site technical expertise and provide it a long term mission include not only Yucca Mountain, but nuclear weapons disassembly and a possible nuclear studies institute. Most nuclear projects have met resistance from Senator Bryan, at times causing a rift with his senate colleague from Nevada:


Escalating the debate over the future of the Nevada Test Site, Sen. Richard Bryan on Wednesday seized upon a nuclear accident in Russia this week to press his argument that the state should not bid for a government factory to disassemble nuclear weapons.

Citing reports that a tank of uranium waste exploded at a nuclear fuel plant in the Siberian city of Tomsk-7, Bryan urged "caution before Nevadans offer the state as a plutonium storage and reprocessing location as part of a planned reconfiguration of the country's nuclear program."

"This simply is not my vision of the future of Nevada," Bryan said.

Bryan's remarks . . . underscored his disagreement with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is considering whether to propose the Nevada Test Site as the home for a nuclear weapons disassembly plant. [ Batt, Tony; Las Vegas Review Journal, 4/8/93]

Having ruled out most nuclear technologies as part of his vision for Nevada, and calling compensation for Yucca Mountain nuclear blackmail, Senator Bryan was faced with convincing the electorate he was capable of saving jobs at the Nevada Test Site.

Belatedly following Senator Reid's lead, in 1994 Senator Bryan proposed that the Nevada Test Site be converted into a giant solar farm. He claimed this would make Nevada the Saudi Arabia of energy, creating thousands of jobs for the Silver State. In reality, Senator Bryan's solar legislation may have only been an attempt to avoid responsibility for not having helped reconfigure the Nevada Test Site years ago. In fact, solar energy is unlikely to be funded long term for Nevada, in part because Senator Bryan has little political clout in Washington and in part because even a profligate Congress recognizes the huge cost escalation likely from solar research Bryan is proposing.

Senator Bryan in conjunction with the DOE's solar research group (Office of Solar Energy Conservation) in pushing a solar makeover for the NTS held a conference on this subject June 2-5 of 1994. However, George Sterzinger, a consultant hired by DOE at Bryan's request to prepare a pro-solar report noted a number of key hurdles standing in the way of bringing solar projects to the Nevada Test Site:

* Water is a major physical constraint on solar energy development.

* An alternative habitat for the Desert Tortoise, a threatened species, will have to be developed to mitigate the impacts of solar development at NTS.

* Transmission service to the site is inadequate for large-scale solar energy development. To accomodate 1000 MegaWatts of solar energy the lines would have to be upgraded to 500kV, at an approximate cost of $33 million, assuming $500,000 per mile over a 65 mile line ranging to $55 million for upgrading 110 miles of line.

* Natural gas service to the site is a roadblock to hybrid solar electric development. Bringing gas to the site for solar thermal trough development would cost roughly $60 million.

* Water: Groundwater is the only local source of water at the NTS. Total existing water use on the NTS totals 9900 acre-feet per year drawn from 14 active wells. Roughly 56 per cent of annual consumption is drawn from nine wells on the Ash Meadows subbasin. . . .

Before relying on groundwater supplies at the NTS, more detailed analysis of groundwater reserves and the impacts of extraction, especially in Area 25, will be required. The wells in Area 25 may be connected to groundwater supplies for the Devil's Hole spring. Devil's Hole is habitat for the endangered pupfish, and therefore water use that could affect either water quality or quantity at Devil's Hole would trigger the Endangered Species Act protections. [Nevada Test Site Solar Feasibility Study, April 1994, prepared by George Sterzinger and DynCorp for U.S. Department of Energy]

Thus not only would the Nevada Test Site require hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades in transmission lines and gas outlets merely to make it possible to support a relatively small 1000 Mw solar facility, but the site also threatens the Desert Tortoise, threatens the Devil's Hole pupfish, and severely taxes the local groundwater supply. Other countless hundreds of billions of dollars would need to be spent building a water pipeline from the ocean and high pressure hydrogen gas lines to fulfill Senator Bryan's complete solar utopia for the Test Site.

The likelihood that congress will enact such a boondggle for Nevada, especially since there is already a solar research facility in Colorado competing for funds, is zero. Curiously, Senator Bryan had said for the last decade that you can't trust the Department of Energy, and that you can't trust the federal government to provide funds for the state of Nevada (specifically in regard to Yucca Mountain). Yet, when he proposed a dubious solar utopia requiring hundreds of millions of federal dollars, Bryan suddenly found the federal government and the DOE a likely donor.


We have diverged from a strict history of Senator Bryan's involvement with Yucca Mountain to cover other seemingly disconnected issues because we believe Bryan's motivations are as important to the reader as his actualpronouncements regarding Yucca Mountain. There are a number of disturbing trends in this broader record:

1) Bryan is willing to promote other technical solutions (CAFE and the Super-Collider) that have apparent risk levels tens of thousands of times greater than Yucca Mountain.

2) Bryan's only counter to Yucca Mountain and nuclear technology is based on under-researched solar proposals whose technical and financial merits are undemonstrated even by his own analysts.

3) Bryan has been willing to deny his state benefits for the study of Yucca Mountain, and even fillibuster another state's benefits, while claiming benefits from solar technology. This appears to be inconsistent.


Given Senator Bryan's apparent lack of consistency and vulnerability on these issues, one would have expected the nuclear industry to attack Bryan head-on in the 1994 elections. However, apparently a deal (called 'Nuke Lite') was struck between nuclear trade insiders, Hazel O'Leary, Bennett Johnston and others within the Clinton administration that no direct attacks on Bryan would occur in a bid to help save his seat in the 1994 election for the Democrats. In return, Bryan would be expected to not attack the nuclear industry during 1994, at least not as vehemently as before.

The reason such a deal was particularly inviting to Bryan and to Governor Miller at the State level, was that it literally freed up millions of dollars in campaign funds which otherwise would have been needed to block the nuclear industry's campaign. As cited earlier, Bryan's Republican opponent, Hal Furman, made this charge in the opening salvos of the 1994 election. It would reappear frequently during the election.

It would seem Senator Bryan has been willing to play both sides of the fense on technological issues ranging from the Super-Collider, to NTS, to CAFE to Yucca Mountain. The unfortunate side affect of the nuclear coalition's decision not to directly confront Bryan in open debate, attempting to win its battles in Washington's backrooms, is that they may well have lost the long term battle this way. While political opposition to Yucca Mountain has been neutralized in the short term, no positive constituency has been created within Nevada, or the nation, for continuation of nuclear power.