City &County

It has been clear for a number of years that the actual socioeconomic impact of Yucca Mountain on Nevada (specifically Las Vegas, Clark County, Nye County and the other counties surrounding the site), will in fact be slight and perhaps even positive. The peak number of workers to be assimilated is in the range of 11,000, a number easily absorbed by the growing Las Vegas community now approaching one million. (see Table 7) The load is also minimized by the downsizing of the Nevada Test Site. The minimal impact has actually been softpeddled by the DOE and its contractors as a goodwill gesture, since the benefits that could be obtained by the Southern Nevada community in part depend on their being a demonstrated economic loss.

For local governments, Yucca Mountain is at heart a battle over property rights; i.e., the Federal Government's right to put a repository on government owned land over the objections of local government. Traditional constitutional interpretations would give local government no right to limit the use of Yucca Mountain as a repository, unless it could be shown that some unusual and permanent damage would result for which there was no compensation. However, considering the actual dangers of Yucca Mountain versus the perceived dangers, it is apparent that the health and economic impact of the repository are trivial. In fact, Yucca Mountain may even prove economically beneficial to the area even without subsidies.

The small size of standard socioeconomic effects, like population displacement, led NWPO researchers to emphasize special socioeconomic effects, like adverse risk perception, in their studies. Instead of the actual impact of Yucca Mountain on Southern Nevada, an emphasis was placed on proving that fear of Yucca Mountain would devastate the area. The counties surrounding Yucca Mountain found this approach little help in determining the actual impacts of transportation routes and demographic shifts necessary to calculating the cost of mitigation. Consequently, the counties have conducted their own socioeconomic studies. Rather than being forced to deal with Yucca Mountain through the state, the counties now are relatively independent of NWPO interference, interfacing with DOE through its Affected Units of Government program.

The two main political opponents of Yucca Mountain within Las Vegas and Clark County have been County commissioner Don Schlesinger and Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones. The two became influential in the Yucca Mountain debate because of their inclusion on the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, the Sawyer Commission, overseeing the Nuclear Waste Project Office. Schlesinger lost his primary bid in 1994 and his clout will be diminished within the Commission. Mayor Jones, in her unsuccessful run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1994, was persuaded to take a much more practical look at the issues and while remaining opposed to the repository, seems willing to negotiate for benefits. Within the City Council, Frank Hawkins and Arny Adamson have been counterweights to the anti-repository position.

There are a number of counties and cities who receive funds from the Nuclear Waste Fund to study and mitigate the socioeconomic impact of Yucca Mountain. The use of these funds has led to mixed results.


The original problem for the city of Las Vegas in relation to Yucca Mountain was not planning for the repository, but figuring out how to spend the money it received from NWPO. Funds started flowing shortly after 1983 when Bob Loux informed the city that grants were available. Although the original grants were small, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, the money lacked a purpose and much was poorly spent.

Since there was little real work for the Las Vegas Nuclear Waste Division to do, the funding glut at first went to purchases of extraneous supplies. Furniture and computers which went unused sat in the corridors of city hall, or were frequently borrowed by other departments in the city. This didn't absorb the entire surplus, so one of the prime means of soaking up funds was to take trips to conventions. A lack of controls meant that after representatives of the city returned from these fact finding missions, few reports were made to update other members of the staff. Little was learned that could help the city should a repository someday show up on the Southern Nevada doorstep. Perhaps the most irritating aspect is that there is now a gag order on the Las Vegas repository technical staff which prevents them from making comments at forums on siting issues, neutralizing their effectiveness.

Extravagance with nuclear ratepayer funds isn't unusual, in fact the City of Las Vegas has a history of ill spent money. Locals will recall the High-Speed Mag-Lev Train fiasco, the Minami Towers hole, the Main Street Station disaster, potentially the Fremont street renovation and many other planning disasters. Interestingly, there was a time when the city entertained the possibility that benefits might be available from Yucca Mountain:


Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie said Friday that it is time for Nevada to begin putting together a "Christmas tree list" of things they want from the federal government if the Nuclear waste dump is placed in Nevada.

Lurie, who met with several members of Congress in Washington earlier this week, said he made it clear that he strenuously opposes placement of the repository at Yucca Mountain, 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

But he said he also discussed compensation he would want local governments to receive if the dump is built at Yucca Mountain.

"On the one hand you don't want it,' Lurie said. "You're going to do everything you can to prevent it. But at the same time, they say, 'You better tell us what you want or you're not going to get anything.'"

City Manager Ashley Hall, who accompanied Lurie to the meetings, agreed that it is time to begin discussing compensation. "The worst possible position we could have would be to fight it tooth and nail to the bitter end and then have nothing when it does come," Hall said.

RJ March 25, 1988 p1c Diane Russell

Later, when Jan Laverty-Jones became mayor and a member of the Sawyer Commission, the City's position swayed even further against the repository. Her Yucca Mountain Man television advertisements and support for Citizens Against Nuclear Waste In Nevada set the tone of the city's opposition. Only later in 1994 did the mayor take a pro-negotiations stance, likely in search of union endorsements for her bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nominaTION.Yet, others on the city council were not quite ready to adopt the mayor's position wholesale. In a city council meeting December 16, 1992, a committee was put together by councilmembers Arnie Adamson and Frank Hawkins to study Yucca Mountain. The fact that this sidestepped a city office already devoted to this issue indicates the councilmen realized it was time to begin preparing for the inevitability of nuclear waste repository despite the mayor's opposition.


One person in local government who did an admirable job in regards to preparing for Yucca Mountain Dennis Bechtel, Clark County Nuclear Waste Division Coordinator. Clark County has officially opposed the siting of Yucca Mountain, through a resolution sponsored by Paul Christiansen in the mid 1980s. Bechtel is "Supportive of City Council, but has tried to maintain objectivity." [Interview, 12/27/93]

This objectivity led Bechtel to diverge from the state in the key area of developing in-house socioeconomic expertise rather than relying on out-of-state consultants like Mountain West. Consequently, Clark County now has an experienced staff on hand with ties to the local community which can "do future planning, reacting to new situations gracefully."

Bechtel's opinion is that "Standard effects don't seem to be that great in the valley. However, Indian Springs and Good Springs might see disproportionate growth due to the railroad spur." His concern is that "DOE might not build the railroad spur," to route shipments around Las Vegas.

Bechtel had raised objections to Mountain West's Section 175 report in 1988, which he didn't feel addressed the needs of the community for solid socioeconomic analysis. Given the mindset of State and city officials, Bechtel's objectivity was no small feat. Bechtel had been skeptical of the "special effects" studies on risk perception done by the state, but a case in New Mexico which awarded damages on the basis of risk perception regarding WIPP has changed his feelings somewhat, although he is still "Sorting out the issues."


Clark County is the most populous affected county, but Yucca Mountain actually sits in Nye County and transportation routes would also affect Mineral County and others. DOE has been conducting meetings with the counties through the so-called Affected Units of Government giving the counties input into the siting process. The counties also run their own divisions devoted to repository issues.

While the counties have already received preliminary funding to allow them to conduct studies into the impact of Yucca Mountain, the critical question has been whether they could receive tangible benefits. Part of the process of determining such benefits were the Grants Equal to Taxes studies which evaluated Yucca Mountain as a lost taxable resource. Since these studies were highly objective, in the end the Grants Equal to Taxes issue was resolved with the Department of Energy through a process more akin to horsetrading than definitive economic analysis. In early 1994, Nye county was awarded $35 million in benefits, answering at least one small part of the compensation question.

For other counties, transportation and emergency preparedness are the critical issues. These questions may only converge on solutions when final decisions are made on the size of transportation casks to be used. If the nuclear industry moves to large Multi Purpose Units transportation casks, conceivably weighing as much as 125 tons, this will force the building of a railroad spur and better define the impacts on other rural areas of Nevada.