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Nevada's Best Interests

Nevadans have been caught in a vise between the unbridled ambitions of their politicians, the revolutionary environmentalism of the Green movement, the machine politics of Washington and the hardball negotiating tactics of the nuclear power industry. Nevadans deserve better than to be crushed between these dinosaurs.

Nevada's options may not be as limited as they seem. The growing interest of the state legislature in overseeing the activities of the Nuclear Waste Project Office are a favorable step in the right direction. Moreover, the 1994 elections may well change the political landscape in Nevada and nationally, with a major impact on the state's ability to negotiate for benefits. While the Yucca Mountain repository may be opposed by a majority of Nevadans, more than seventy percent also believe that negotiating for benefits in compensation for a project they view as inevitable is a rational course their legislators should pursue.

Given the increasing likelihood that the nuclear waste repository will be constructed at Yucca Mountain, it is time to begin some hard bargaining. The consensus among political insiders in Nevada and Washington is that Nevada's window of opportunity in regard to negotiations for benefits is rapidly closing. The feeling is that since the risks from nuclear waste transportation and storage in the state are extremely close to zero, and the Nevada political opposition is locked in cement, it may not be worth the trouble to compensate Nevada.

Yet, Yucca Mountain is a massive project with substantial impacts on the infrastructure and economy of Nevada and the state should not be required to receive nuclear waste without benefits. Nevadans have coexisted with the Nevada Test Site for forty years though in environmental terms the NTS is potentially a worse neighbor than the Yucca Mountain repository. There is no reason such a symbiotic relationship can not be built with the repository. Nevada doesn't need to pursue the nuclear waste site, but it does need to actively pursue ample compensation for receiving that waste.

This compensation might include, but not be limited to, the following:

1) 100 million dollars per year in fees, indexed to inflation and retroactive to the 1987 Nuclear Waste Amendment Act. This represents 10% of the state budget.

2) Guarantees that a railroad spur will be built to Yucca Mountain that avoids Las Vegas completely and limits the highway traffic of radioactive waste.

highway upgrades to ensure the safety of nuclear waste transportation that does come by road.

3) The funding of a nuclear studies institute within the university system to attract the brightest minds in nuclear and high-energy research to Nevada. Las Vegas should become a center not only for nuclear waste disposal, but also for the study of new reactor designs, transmutation and fuel recycling.

4) Nevada should ask for limited-liability deed to the waste. Nuclear waste will be recyclable into usable products in the not so distant future and represents a monetary gold mine for the state for centuries (if not millenia) to come.

5) Nevada should receive sizeable subsidies for general education, at the grade school through university levels to compensate for the influx of workers.

6) Water resources are a problem for the entire Silver State, and especially Southern Nevada. In exchange for accepting Yucca Mountain, tradeoffs should be made for water rights, especially access to a greater allotment of Colorado River water. California must be willing to trade water allotments for access to the repository.

7) General infrastructure upgrades are needed. This includes local street and highway upgrades, as well as possible widening of the I-15 corridor to Los Angeles.

8) The facilities for construction of canister overpacks and other components should be required to maintain facilities in Nevada.

9) First consideration for other federal projects. Specially of interest would be:

(a) a new mag-lev train between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

(b) a nuclear transmutation facility.

(c) a solar research facility at the Nevada Test Site

10) Ecological improvements or Endangered Species Act abatements and funding (desrt tortoise, Devil's Hole pupfish)

11). Land swaps. More than 80% of Nevada is now in federal hands.

Nevadans need to understand that the Yucca Mountain repository is likely to be built without any of the above compensation and without needed oversight if the present political course is continued. Opposition by local politicians has not diminished the odds that Yucca Mountain will be built, as evidenced by the lopsided votes in Congress against efforts by senators Reid and Bryan to derail the process. Similarly, the environmental movement has only proven capable of delaying but not defeating the repository. Polls show Nevadas understand the reality that they have little choice but to negotiate, however, convincing their leaders may only come through the power of the ballot box.

Before Nevada can regain control over the Yucca Mountain issue, much less begin to negotiate for benefits, a political housecleaning will be necessary. To ensure proper oversight of Yucca Mountain, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office will need to be reengineered:

1) The Nuclear Waste Project Office needs to be gutted of its present personnel and replaced with people who know something about the nuclear waste industry. Robert Loux is not technically qualified to run this agency. Typically, an MBA with an engineering bachelors background and experience in the nuclear field should be employed. Such qualified individuals are not hard to come by, in fact that is why the presence of a secondary-education major in this position is such a travesty.

2) The politically motivated Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force needs to be replaced with a neutral information service run out of the Nevada university system. This would depoliticize the state's informational efforts and more importantly, offer the citizens of Nevada an educational organization capable of understanding and explaining the real social, economic and technical risks of Yucca Mountain, not just the perceived risks!

3) All contracts awarded by NWPO to the level of individual grants need to be reviewed. A majority of these contracts went out-of-state or to groups with political agendas which exclude objective science. The university system of Nevada and local engineering and consulting firms should be relied on and Requests For Proposals must be widely disseminated within the state. (In fact, most NWPO contracts should be limited to in-state resources to ensure Nevada is represented in this process and not replaced by disinterested academics.)

4) Competitive bids should be required on all contracts over $50,000 and should be open for public scrutiny. The Code of Federal Regulations should be followed in this regard (10- CFR 600-438)

5) All reports done for the state, and all data collected, should be easily accessible for use by residents of the state. NWPO has hidden or squelched much of the socioeconomic data, making its collection pointless.

The 1994 elections may change the dynamics of the Yucca Mountain debate. The replacement of a political establishment which sees little need to negotiate for the best interests of Nevadans may be the first step towards breaking the political logjam over Yucca Mountain. Representatives capable of understanding technical issues like Yucca Mountain, mining, the Nevada Test Site, water rights, etc. seem to be a priority for Nevada's future.

Gaming rules the State of Nevada, mining and ranching is its most important industries and the federal government's impact on the state is huge. Senators Bryan and Reid lack political leverage in the U.S. Congress in part stems from their stand on the critical issue of Yucca Mountain. Nevadans at some level understand that this in turn makes their senators poor advocates for their state. Bryan and Reid failed to influence the rise of Indian gaming, riverboat gambling and other gaming venues outside the State. They have not been particularly effective in protecting Nevada's interests in regard to mining, cattle ranching or the Nevada Test Site

Since Nevadans cannot count on federal funding for their senator's hydrogen-solar complex to be a magic bullet, reality may be close to setting in. The Nevada Nuclear Waste Study Committee, in contrast, in 1994 became actively involved in developing a compensation strategy for Nevada that may serve as a blueprint for negotiations in 1995. Obviously Nevada face a decision point. On the one hand lies Yucca Mountain and the prospects of a wide range of benefits, on the other Yucca Mountain and no benefits. The choices do not seem too difficult.