Repository Opposition

The primary individuals and groups opposing Yucca Mountain are listed in Table 3. Among the wide range of individuals and organizations opposing Yucca Mountain are politicians, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office and its subcontractors, and a variety of environmental and social justice movements.

The length of the Yucca Mountain opposition list may come as a surprise to some, because the anti-nuclear movement is often portrayed as being an unorganized grassroots movement. In reality, the movement is a self-contained and well funded political juggernaut, relying not only on donations from individuals, but also on support from large philanthropic funds.


Surprisingly, opposition to Yucca Mountain and nuclear technology is not primarily motivated by environmental and health concerns over radioactive substances. Instead, social, political and religious influences dominate the debate.

One crucial issue is the question of what role technology should play in society and who controls science. Hazardous waste "dumps" are predominantly placed in the neighborhoods of poorer Americans and minorities and the question raised by progressives is whether this is due to practical considerations or more ominously because of social biases of the technological elite. Governmental takings of land claimed by the Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute, which include Yucca Mountain, are considered by some an act of social oppression, inhibiting the native population's ability to practice traditional culture.

Other opposition currents focus on at times arcane political issues. One argument uses Yucca Mountain as a surrogate for the larger issue of control of Nevada's resources, but in the process links the repository with expansion of bombing ranges and secret test areas within Nevada. Others view nuclear waste as a tool of "centralizing" industrialists and part of a conspiracy to keep society under the thumb of elite capitalists, making the repository a revolutionary focal point. Some see democracy at risk at Yucca Mountain because the local community is not allowed to vote and veto the project.

A variety of religious concerns are also voiced. One is that Yucca Mountain is part of an amoral global nuclear warmaking apparatus because plutonium in the waste could be separated for bombmaking. Others argue the repository is a pagan altar to a technology of greed on which human souls are being sacrificed. Still others believe that building a repository will destroy Mother Earth and is thus a mortal sin because we are abusing our stewardship of the planet. Apocalyptic environmentalism is in general more religious than scientific, based on a paranoia that nuclear technology represents an environmental Armageddon.

Although the spectrum of anti-repository philosophies competing in Nevada seems wide and varied, they share common threads, being socially egalitarian and environmentally apocalyptic. These theories have names:

LIBERATION THEOLOGY - An outgrowth of Brazilian land reform struggles, its main proponents (Gutierrez and Paolo Friere) relied heavily on Marxist theory but attempted to remold this theory using Catholic concepts of "peace and justice" as outlined by the Pope. Nevada Desert Experience seems to spring from this mold, a central organizer of Nevada Test Site protest.

RAWLSIAN ETHICS - John Rawls of Harvard wrote his "Theory of Justice" in 1971, outlining a theoretical formulation of egalitarian thought that found acceptance in academia, though not without heated debate. It emphasizes accounting for the "least advantaged man" in all social calculations. This theory is a favorite of the academics doing socioe eonomic studies for the state.

DEEP ECOLOGY - An envirocentric philosophy theology formulated by David Brower (Sierra Club activist and founder of Friends of Earth) and expanded upon by other environmentalists. This is a mixture of anarchist, far-east animist and American tribal philosophies in which nuclear technology is viewed as the ultimate threat to the world ecology. Evident in many of the environmental protest movements works, from Sierra Club to Greenpeace.

INDIAN TRIBAL SPIRITUALISM - Many environmental movements look towards Indian philosophies of coexistence with natural resources as models. Along with this comes a reverence for supposedly egalitarian tribal lifestyles. In Nevada, the Western Shoshone have been used in this role and their geographical links to the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain have tied tribal spiritualism to the debate.

DECENTRALISM / ANARCHISM - The organizing philosophy behind the "Green Revolution", this anarchist philosophy makes itself known in both populist environmental tracts and academia. Ralph Nader's anti-nuclear activists have been proponents of decentralism, arguing that nuclear energy centralizes political power while solar energy disperses it.

THERMODYNAMIC NIHILISTS - An undercurrent to Vice President Al Gore's philosophy, derived in part from the writings of environmental lawyer Jeremy Rifkin. This theory suggests man's technology (especially nuclear energy) dooms the world environment through entropic decay according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. There are no noted thermodynamicists who believe this theory.

MAOIST / MARXISTS - Remnants of class warfare theory pervade many of the previously mentioned environmental theories. While Maoism and Marxism are no longer mentioned by name in environmental tracks, following the writings of environmental authors back twenty years often reveals a time when their ideas were directly attributed to these revolutionaries.


These different worldviews of the dangers of nuclear technology have mixed and merged like paint in a pot over the years so that it is often hard to distinguish where one philosophy begins and another ends. Practitioners of the numerous varieties of anti-nuclearism cross the lines of debate frequently. Protest against nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors and now against the waste repository have thus interwoven into a larger tapestry. The true rationale behind the debate over the repository only becomes visible if one understands the broad historical panorama of anti-nuclear protest and its philosophical driving forces.

The history of antinuclear protest begins in the early seventies as the Vietnam War ended and the peace movement began a search for replacement causes. One event which seemed to stir up antagonism for nuclear technology among the protest factions were the musings of Alvin Weinberg, the father of nuclear reactors, who in 1972 postulated the need for a "Technological Priesthood" to watch nuclear waste for many millennia. Activists like the physicist Marvin Resnikoff began to target nuclear projects during this birthing period of the anti-nuclear movement. Resnikoff, a professor at the short lived Rachel Carson University, became critical of the West Valley nuclear reprocessing plant in New York, thus beginning what became a career of protest. Others followed similar courses during this critical period in the early 70s, becoming involved in a lifelong anti-nuclear crusade.

The growth of the Clamshell Alliance and protest at Seabrook in the early 70's led to the parallel formation of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project. The Critical Mass rallies of 1974 and 1978 helped solidify and legitimize the opposition. The movement became cohesive and hit its stride with Nader's writing of "The Atomic Menace", first published in 1977, which portrayed nuclear technology as a time bomb waiting to happen.

Besides the various alliances (Clamshell, Palmetto, Cactus, Abalone, etc.) and Nader groups (Critical Mass, Public Interest Research Groups, Environment Watch, etc.), other anti-nuclear protest groups began to make their presence known. Dr. Helen Caldicott's Physicians for Social Responsibility took on the tenor of a revival crusade. Richard Pollard of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Dan Reicher the Natural Resources Defense Council also made themselves effective as anti-nuclear advocates. Amory Lovins, the British representative of Friends of the Earth, helped stop development of the Gorleben waste repository in Germany in 1979, an effort which would serve as a template for later actions. Lovins later joined forces with Marvin Resnikoff in New York to protest shipment of plutonium through the state.

The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 created a professional core of nuclear opposition which later became critical components in opposing Yucca Mountain. Nader, Caldicott, Resnikoff, Reicher, and others formed a permanent core of anti-nuclear protesters inside the Washington Beltway with a network of offices and staff. In the academic sphere, psychologists and political geographers from a small kernel of institutions, (in particular Mountain West, Decision Research, and Clark University's CENTED) began to dominate nuclear risk perception studies based on their key participation in the socioeconomic analysis of the Three Mile Island accident for President Carter's Kemeny Commission. The ideology of these academics would later play a pivotal role in the Yucca Mountain debate.

The premier anti-nuclear activist group in Nevada is Citizen Alert, which started as a protest against nuclear waste disposal in Nevada in the late 70's but cut its teeth on the MX debate in the early 80's. In the same time frame, Nevada Test Site protest became the seed for creation of the Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) by Franciscans and nuns. Later, the national anti-nuclear Freeze movement merged its efforts with NDE, eventually spinning off as American Peace Test. Members of all these organizations regularly crossed boundaries and as nuclear weapons protest faded, many became regulars in Citizen Alert, the local focus of Yucca Mountain opposition. Professionals from the earlier national protest movement regularly resurrected themselves in Nevada, as for example Marvin Resnikoff who helped found the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign but traveled extensively to Nevada and later worked for the state Nuclear Waste Project Office.

In Washington, the Safe Energy Communications Council had been created in the early 80's as an umbrella organization for anti-nuclear / pro-solar environmental groups. As an offshoot of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project, the SECC centralized control of nuclear protest. Anti-nuclear warriors moved from movement to movement, exemplified by Diane D'Arrigo (from the Sierra Club Nuclear Waste Campaign to the Nuclear Resource Information Center), and Caroline Petti (from Public Citizen to PIRG to Southwest Information and Resource Service to the Environmental Protection Agency).

In Nevada, the election of Richard Bryan to the governorship in 1982 had ensured continuing no-compromise opposition from the state to the Yucca Mountain repository. The state agency designed to oversee the technical study of Yucca Mountain, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office (NWPO), became captive to environmental special interests under its director, Bob Loux. A unyielding opposition to the repository developed which paralleled the philosophy of the anti-nuclear movement. NWPO's science, public information and socioeconomic mandates were compromised by radical political agendas. For example, in 1985, Mountain West was chosen by NWPO as prime contractor to do socioeconomic studies for the state. NWPO funneled $15 million through the Mountain West research accounts, much of which was devoted to anti-nuclear advocacy.

NWPO also found itself influenced by the progressive politics of some of its key consultants. In the mid eighties study of a repository in Deaf Smith county, Texas, was effectively opposed by environmentalists from the local organizations STAND and POWER. Steve Frishman of the Texas Nuclear Waste Program Office and Texas Agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower were critical in the success of this opposition. Frishman later found employment at NWPO 1987, Hightower now is on the board of Nader's Public Citizen..

In 1987, Senator Bennett Johnston's (D-La) "Screw Nevada" amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site for study, causing an uproar in the nuclear protest movement. That year, Bob Loux hired Steve Frishman on at NWPO to serve as an opposition consultant. Also in 1987, Public Citizen produced "Shutdown Strategies", a secret plan to shutdown nuclear energy in America. The Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force was formed in late 1988 by Citizen Alert and Judy Treichel in conjunction with national anti-nuclear activists. The NNWTF was promptly given a sweetheart contract by Bob Loux through NWPO. Citizen Alert pressed the battle against Yucca Mountain in the early 90's, counting among its allies the Safe Energy Communication Council, Greenpeace, Southwest Research and Information Center, IEER, Don't Waste U.S. and many others. In short, a well organized national movement evolved to obstruct the study of Yucca Mountain because the repository is the bottleneck in the continued use and development of the nuclear energy option.

When the nuclear coalition headed by the American Nuclear Energy Council began in 1991 to present an alternative viewpoint to Nevadans opposed to that presented by the professional anti-nuclear lobby, war broke out. Among the anti-nuclear warriors who visited the state were Ralph Nader, Helen Caldicott, Marvin Resnikoff, Dan Reicher, Robert Pollard, Scott Denman, Rosalie Bertell and many others. The battle was broken off, however, before the environmentalists were sufficiently challenged. The nuclear industry reneged on its commitment to a $10 million information campaign and pursued backroom deals in Washington, leaving Nevada in the hands of anti-repository environmental and political special interests.