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Opinions of

Nevada Engineers

Amazingly enough, no one thought to poll the state's professional engineers whether Yucca Mountain would pose a threat to the health and well being of the citizens until 1994. The professional engineers are the one set of people who might have an educated opinion about the risks a repository might represent. Instead, while the opinions of journalists were ubiquitous, and even casino workers on the street were asked their technical interpretation of earthquakes at the site, the technical community was silent and/or silenced.

Nevada's engineers, especially those in private practice, in non-DOE businesses and in the University system, are one group whose expertise and independence might allow them to think about the interests of their state in a rational way. Opinions of professional engineers have the added weight that comes with licensing, which means a professional engineer's signature on a document certifies his accountability as an experienced professional. The threat of personal attacks by politicians and journalists within Nevada evidently caused many of these engineers to remain silent on the Yucca Mountain issue.

A case in point was the way Dr. Richard Wyman of the UNLV school of engineering was treated when in the spring of 1991 he came forward to say the studies of Yucca Mountain should be allowed to continue. Attacks by Bob Loux from NWPO and from Robert Maxson, president of UNLV, proved devastating to Wyman's career. Of course, part of the responsibility for Wyman's treatment should go to the engineering community itself which failed to speak up in Wyman's defense. In a discussion with a high official of a Yucca Mountain subcontractor the question of why the engineers of the state didn't aggressively fight back against such distortions was raised. "Do you think anyone would really listen even if we gave our credentials?" was the response.

In fact, the reluctance of the scientific and engineering community to band together and proactively counter the radical environmental opposition left lone engineering professionals at the mercy of uncredentialed critics. The media rarely certified the scientific backgrounds of their sources, allowing outside environmental activists imported by NWPO to speak without review by experienced local engineers and scientists. What has been needed is local, independent, professional discussion of the waste repository issue.

To overcome the inertial reluctance of Nevada engineers to be heard on the Yucca Mountain issue, this author prepared to poll the Professional Engineers of the State anonymously with the results intended for inclusion in this book. However, in May of 1994 we became aware of a more rigorous poll titled Nevada Engineering and Science Survey conducted by the Nevada Transportation Technology Transfer Center, College of Engineering at the University of Nevada Reno, in conjunction with the UNR Department of Political Science. Since the poll had already been conducted and the results only required tabulation (a simple process given present computerized survey techniques), no difficulty was expected in including the results in these pages by October, for than four months later. Unfortunately, no such results have yet been forthcoming.

The simple explanation is that the UNR engineering department simply lost interest in the project. Unfortunately, it is more likely the poll results were held up until after the 1994 political campaign season as a result of the Clinton administration and nuclear industry's combined "Nuke Lite" strategy. Rather than strike this chapter from the book at the last moment, it is apparent the holdup of this survey is in itself an issue, whether or not there is any political conspiracy to delay its release. First, why was NWPO, who it seemed even polled the pet dogs and cats of Nevadans on the Yucca Mountain issue, unable to think to do this critical poll years before? Why was it when this author originally called the Nevada Professional Engineers society office in 1993 that they were unwilling to release their mailing list for the purpose of a poll before it went through their staff lawyer (who conveniently never called back)? Why did the state's professional engineers themselves never clear the air on the repository issue as part of their obligation to Nevadas citizens?

It seems clear a number of answers are needed to explain this coverup and hide mentality evident in professionals on both sides of the issue. In the hope that these questions are asked by more than just this author, we've included some of the representative poll questions because they demonstrate the importance of the UNR poll:

3. Evaluate the role Nevada's engineering and scientific community has played to date in site characterization work for the repository.

5. Currently the state performs evaluation studies, but does not place engineers and scientists at the Yucca Mountain site. Do you think the state would be better able to evaluate the work being performed at Yucca Mountain if state engineers and scientists were actually on-site with the engineers and scientists currently conducting the evaluation of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository?

11 Rate the overall quality of DOE personnel with whom you have worked on past projects.

16 What is your overall assesssment of the quality of engineering and scientific work performed to date by the DOE in assessing the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository?

16 What is your overall assesssment of the quality of engineering and scientific work performed to date by the State of Nevada in assessing the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository?

21 [Indicate how strong your agreement is with the following statements]

a. Nevada government should do everything possible to prevent building the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

b. The nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is inevitable - it will be built whether the state of Nevada opposes it or not.

d. Nevada is the best place for the repository because the nuclear weapons test site is already here.

e. The process by which Nevada was chosen as a potential site for the repository was fair.

i. A repository at Yucca Mountain would hinder Nevada's image as a place to visit.

23 Would you vote in favor of locating the repository at Yucca Mountain if the state of Nevada were provided an unrestricted grant of $100 million per year for the next 20 years?