Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office

"The State of Nevada's involvement in the issue of storing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste began in 1974 when the Atomic Energy Commission (a predecessor agency to the U.S. Department of Energy) notified then-Governor O'Callahan that Nevada was being considered as a possible location for a "retrievable surface storage facility" for spent nuclear reactor fuel." [NEVADA NUCLEAR WASTE NEWSLETTER "Who's Who in Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office (1989)]

The possibility of storing nuclear waste in Nevada near the Nevada Test Site (NTS) has always been an obvious choice:

  1. The surrounding Nye County population density is extremely low and likely to remain so.
  2. Local experience handling radioactive substances comes from decades of bomb testing at the Nevada Test Site. Tunneling and geological expertise already exist.
  3. The area is isolated desert not suitable for most industrial, agricultural or recreational uses.
  4. The local geology is stable and the water table low with drainage towards Death Valley.

Opposition to the idea that Nevada might serve as a site for a nuclear waste dump was not always so highly charged. In the early seventies the state still had a fairly good working relationship with the many federal agencies that operate within its borders. Many Nevadans had watched nuclear bomb tests from their backyards while growing up and nuclear hysteria hadn't permeated the popular culture.

The Nevada Department of Energy (NDOE) began monitoring federal nuclear waste disposal plans in the late 1970s. When the NDOE was abolished by the 1983 State Legislature in response to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the department's responsibilities were moved to the Governor's Office where a special Nuclear Waste Project Office (NWPO) was established.

Congress tried to mitigate some of the unfairness of forced nuclear waste siting by encouraging oversight by the states under consideration to receive that waste. According to The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982:

Sec 117 B CONSULTATION AND COOPERATION. -- In performing any study of an area within a State for the purpose of determining the suitability of such area for a repository pursuant to section 112(c), and in subsequently developing and loading any repository within such State, the Secretary shall consult and cooperate with the Governor and legislature of such State and the governing body of any affected Indian tribe in an effort to resolve the concerns of such State and any affected Indian tribe regarding the public health and safety, environmental, and economic impacts of any such repository. In carrying out his duties under this subtitle, the Secretary shall take such concerns into account to the maximum extent feasible and as specified in written agreements entered into under subsection (c).

This short section in the 1982 law was meant to protect the states of Washington, Texas and Nevada from being railroaded by outside special interests during the siting of a nuclear waste repository. Ironically, the law instead promoted just such a power grab, although not by the Nuclear Industry or Big Business as one might have suspected. Instead, the environmental movement took advantage of the oversight and consultation powers given the state, understanding that state veto power was the bottleneck in closing the nuclear fuel cycle. The 1987 Amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the so-called "Screw Nevada" bill which set Nevada aside as the only site for characterization, also delineated oversight powers for Nevada and provided the monetary muscle for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office:

SEC. 5032 PARTICIPATION OF STATES . . . . "(B) The Secretary shall make grants to the State of Nevada and any affected unit of local government for purposes of enabling such State or affected unit of local government -

The oversight latitude given the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office became the Achilles heel of nuclear power. Groups like Friends of the Earth, Public Citizens' Critical Mass, Citizen Alert and a long list we'll recount in later chapters, had long been convinced that nuclear materials of any sort would lead to environmental armageddon, either through pollution or nuclear weapons proliferation. However, the long history of attempts by environmental groups to shut down the defense and civilian nuclear programs through site-by-site protest had proven ineffectual. The Nuclear Waste Project Office provided the environmentalists an opportunity to turn the tide.

If environmental elites couldn't raise popular opposition to nuclear energy in each of the states that depended on nuclear reactors, they eventually realized they could subvert the entire nuclear energy policy process by hijacking the State of Nevada's oversight of nuclear waste disposal. The State of Nevada originally had a degree of veto power over the repository (power now quickly eroding) and this provided a window of opportunity. If the environmentalists moved quickly enough, the entire nuclear industry could be brought to its knees by influencing a few key state politicians and agency heads in Nevada instead of battling both the entire U.S. Congress and the powerful nuclear lobbies in Washington.

Thus, professional environmental protestors became self-appointed arbiters of our energy future through their manipulation of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. Unfortunately, since the environmentalists were predominantly from the social sciences and legal professions, their knowledge of alternative energy engineering was also lacking. This has created a situation in which national energy policy revolves around an anti-nuclear / pro-solar utopianism that offers little in the way of practical engineering remedies to national energy problems short of shutting off the nation's electrical outlets.

Most intriguing to the opposition groups was the prospect that the American nuclear power industry would pay for the noose to hang itself. Environmental groups like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Public Citizens' Critical Mass Energy Project, etc. are by no means poor. However, The Nuclear Waste Policy Act provided an even larger reservoir of money that the radicals knew they had to tap in order to strangle the nuclear industry:

NUCLEAR WASTE FUND Sec. 302 (a) CONTRACTS -- (1) In the performance of his functions under this Act, the Secretary is authorized to enter into contracts with any person who generates or holds title to high-level radioactive waste, or spent nuclear fuel, of domestic origin for the acceptance of title, subsequent transportation, and disposal of such waste or spent fuel. Such contracts shall provide for the payment to the Secretary of fees pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (3) sufficient to offset expenditures described in section (d). [ Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 1982]

The Nuclear Waste Fund has since generated three billion dollars in reserves (and growing), of which all and more will be needed to fulfill the need for scientific studies, engineering and construction of the Yucca Mountain repository. The main thing to note here is that these are ratepayer funds from nuclear utilities, not taxpayer dollars, although the federal government has control over the distribution of those funds.

Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office was created using money set aside from the Nuclear Waste Fund. Under its director, Bob Loux, NWPO has consumed nearly fifty million dollars over the last decade, much of it employed in opposition to nuclear energy. The bitter irony of this for the nuclear industry is that much of the money spent by Nevada went to some of the most sophisticated opponents of nuclear energy in the world.

"As federal interest in a possible Nevada waste site increased, the level of NWPO oversight also increased. The office, which was - and is - funded by federal grants (Nuclear Waste Fund) made available to states under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, grew from a two-person staff in 1983 to a $3 million program by 1985.["NEVADA NUCLEAR WASTE NEWSLETTER "Who's Who in Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office (1989?)]

One of the people on the original two-man staff left over from 1982 is Robert Loux, who has become notorious in Nevada as a one-man anti-nuclear wrecking ball. A high school teacher with a major in history and minor in psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno, Loux had been involved in state energy and nuclear waste programming since 1976. In fact, except for a few years of teaching high school, this appears to have been the only career he has ever pursued. Since becoming executive director of NWPO, Loux's lack of scientific expertise and technical credentials has become a raw wound in the Nevada technical community which sees him as a political manipulator and engineering dilettante. This hasn't stopped Loux from gaining carte blanche over what have now grown to more than $5 million dollars per year in funds, in large part distributed to foes of the nuclear industry.

As a result of action by the 1985 Nevada Legislature, NWPO became, officially, the Agency for Nuclear Projects - a statutorily established entity responsible for monitoring and overseeing U.S. Department of Energy activities related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site. In the hands of then-Governor Richard Bryan, it also became part of a political strategy designed to bludgeon political opposition into submission - notably former Senator Chic Hecht in the 1988 senatorial campaign eventually won by Bryan.

Under the troika of Senator Bryan, director Robert Loux and former governor Grant Sawyer (who was enlisted to head the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects), the Nuclear Waste Project Office became an anti-nuclear propaganda machine. Oversight by the Sawyer Commission transformed into show trials masquerading as fact finding. Science conducted by NWPO's technical and planning division was corrupted by political considerations. The social scientists of the planning division, given lucrative contracts worth $15 million, used their expertise to generate anti-nuclear hysteria in Nevada. Less abusive but no less disturbing was that some of the technical studies were designed to support the party line rather than investigate real technical questions at Yucca Mountain

But how did what was originally a two man environmental office devoted to disposing of waste oil become so powerful a foe of nuclear energy and a thorn in the side of the Department of Energy? Director Loux simply spent the fifty million dollars in funds received for oversight over the last decade as he saw fit, building a political propaganda machine in the process. Nevada's politicians, notably Senator Bryan and ex-governor Sawyer, looked the other way as Bob Loux awarded millions of dollars of contracts without Requests For Proposals and without competitive bids. Even more problematic was that the Department of Energy, which was supposed to oversee the spending of NWPO, caved in to the political pressure and allowed the state to violate federal laws rather than risk making political waves. This abdication of management control over NWPO by both the State of Nevada political establishment and the Department of Energy allowed Loux's agency to become a loose canon.

For example, NWPO openly violated the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) against using funds to run public relations and lobbying campaigns. Whenever questioned about the legality of these public relations activities, Bob Loux simply claimed the regulations didn't apply, or that his agency was in compliance because its activities were strictly "informational". The pertinent regulation regarding limits on public relations and lobbying by agencies accepting Federal grants is FAR 31.205-22:

31.205-22 Legislative lobbying costs.

(a) Costs associated with the following activities are unallowable:

(1) Attempts to influence the outcomes of any Federal, State, or local election, referendum, initiative or similar procedure, through in kind or cash contributions, endorsements, publicity, or similar activities.

(NWPO has been careful not to publicly endorse anti-nuclear candidates. However, they've skirted this restriction by using closely affiliated environmental organizations like Citizen Alert and the Safe Energy Communication Council to lobby the local and national legislature on the Yucca Mountain issue. Other ways of skirting the law are numerous; for example, the NWPO publication, Nuclear Waste News is a political diatribe against Yucca Mountain sent to 20,000 readers, but is called "informational". )

(2) Establishing, administering, contributing to, or paying the expenses of a political party, campaign, political action committee, or other organization established for the purpose of influencing elections.

(Citizens Against Nuclear Waste In Nevada [CAN-WIN] was specifically organized by Grant Sawyer who heads the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects (NCNP). NCNP oversees NWPO and consequently NWPO is in essence a prime organizer of CAN-WIN.) Other such political organizations also receive covert support from NWPO.

(3) Any attempt to influence (i) the introduction of Federal or state legislation, or (ii) the enactment or modification of any pending Federal or state legislation through communication with any member or employee of Congress or state legislature (including efforts to influence state or local officials to engage in similar lobbying activity), or with any government official or employee in connection with a decision to sign or veto enrolled legislation;

(NWPO specifically hired lobbyists in Washington and elsewhere [ Murphy, M.R. & Davenport, J.H., Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan - $60,000; Tillson, D - $144,000; Peck, D.R. - $30,000; Phillips, F. J. - $97,000; Afton &Associates - $65,000] to influence legislation. The General Accounting Office eventually balked at these expenses.)

(4) Any attempt to influence (i) the introduction of Federal or state legislation by preparing, distributing or using publicity or propaganda, or by urging members of the general public or any segment thereof to contribute to or participate in any mass demonstration, march, rally, fund raising drive, lobbying campaign or letter writing or telephone campaign;

(Judy Treichel of the Nuclear Waste Task Force, the public relations subcontractor to NWPO, was specifically chosen because of her affiliations with Citizen Alert, Clergy and Laity, Rural Alliance, Nevada Desert Experience and other organizations which regularly attempt to influence state and Federal legislation by conducting marches, letter writing, fund raising, etc. )


(5) Legislative liason activities, including attendance at legislative sessions or committee hearings, gathering information regarding legislation, and analyzing the effect of legislation, when such activities are carried on in support of or in knowing preparation for an effort to engage in unallowable activities.

(Bob Loux, executive director of NWPO, extensively lobbied the 1993 Nevada legislature on matters relating to Yucca Mountain. Steve Frishman, a NWPO consultant, has a job description specifically tailored to engage in this activity. Other consultants, such as Arjun Makhijani of IEER, are hired specifically because they are active in lobbying efforts.)

Perhaps more important than ignoring the Federal Acquistion Regulations, NWPO regularly broke the letter and spirit of 10 CFR 600-436, the procurement section of the Code of Federal Regulations. The worst shortfall was in regard to a number of clauses found in the standards of competition:


(1) All procurement transactions will be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition consistent with the standards of 600.436. Some of the situations considered to be restrictive of competition include but are not limited to:

(2) Grantees and subgrantees will conduct procurements in a manner that prohibits the use of statutorily or administratively imposed in-State or local geographical preferences in the evaluation of bids or proposals, except in those cases where applicable Federal statutes expressly mandate or encourage geographic preference. . . . .

(In fact, regional preference was encouraged for NWPO, whose mandate was after all to oversee the best interest of Nevadans in regard to the nuclear waste repository. NWPO spent, however, 60% of its research funds on out-of-state researchers specifically to avoid accountability within Nevada.)

(3) Grantees will have written selection procedures for procurement transactions. These procedures will ensure that all solicitations:

(i) incorporate a clear and accurate description of the technical requirements for the material, product or service to be procured. Such description shall not, in competitive procurements, contain features which unduly restrict competition.

(NWPO regularly wrote contracts for the benefit of sole source bidders and only reluctantly distributed work descriptions through the Nevada technical and academic community.)

The variety and extent of idiosyncracies within the operations of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office have only been hinted at in this chapter. The point we hope we have made is that there is much more going on at Yucca Mountain than a question of state's rights. Why would Bob Loux, as executive director of NWPO, feel compelled to skirt the competitive bidding process at the Yucca Mountain issue and ignore the Code of Federal Regulations? Why would Loux and NWPO also blatantly ignore the Federal Acquisition Regulations against lobbying and public relations efforts? Was all this activity for personal gain or is there a greater underlying dynamic?

Had laws been broken merely in the time honored fashion of corrupt state politics, with money and greed as the motive, it would not have been a dangerous precedent but simply an irritating one. Instead, ideology drives the Yucca Mountain war. Yucca Mountain is not just a local state's rights issue run by some Nevada Bubbas trying to line their pockets, but a philosophical war of national importance.

Something much larger than local politics is unfolding in Nevada, something big enough to necessitate the violation of Federal law, the redirection of funds and the raising of political lynch mobs to oppose anyone who believes Yucca Mountain is a technology deserving study.