Bob Loux & NWPO

It is a curious fact of life in Nevada that a former high school teacher who majored in history and minored in psychology, is the executive director of the state's Nuclear Waste Project Office. This is despite the fact that the state has no lack of technical expertise in things nuclear, geological or related to the mining industry and is called the Silver State to reflect a long tradition of such activity. In fact, Nevada had the opportunity to draw on some distinguished expertise in regard to nuclear waste disposal from within its borders to head its Nuclear Waste Project Office, but instead chose its director on the basis of political expediency.

The law establishing the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office and its seven member governing commission, the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects to which it reports, is Nevada Revised Statute 459.0093:

459.0093 Agency for nuclear projects: Creation, composition; appointment and qualifications of executive director. 1. The agency for nuclear projects is hereby created. It consists of the commission and:

2. The governor shall appoint an executive director, who serves at the pleasure of the commission, and who must:

It is difficult to understand in purely objective terms how in 1983, then Governor Richard Bryan and the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, led by former governor Grant Sawyer, could justify the appointment of Bob Loux as executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. Although Loux had been in the Nevada Department of Energy (later NWPO) since 1976 and handled the state's waste oil recycling efforts, that position lacked hands-on experience in nuclear issues or "broad management skills". Loux's previous employment as a high school history teacher was not related to technical issues at all.

Bob Loux survived in his niche as director of the Nuclear Waste Project Office not through his expertise in nuclear waste engineering or management, but by being a convenient political tool for Senator Bryan and various environmental groups (Citizen Alert in Nevada, the Safe Energy Communication Council in Washington D.C., among others). As executive director of NWPO, Loux fought hard for his agency, but with his limited technical skills and narrow job experience his efforts were often counterproductive. Staff hired by Loux had no coherent research objective other than to create objections to geologic storage at Yucca Mountain, creating an academic bubble biased against objective science. Open discussion of scientific issues at Yucca Mountain with the Department of Energy were poisoned by the state's lack of objectivity, making rigorous oversight impossible.

Loux's role as pawn to powerful politicians and environmental activist groups stems from his unchecked statutory powers. Nevada Revised Statute 459.0095 gave Loux a wide mandate:

459.0095 Executive director of agency for nuclear projects: Powers. The executive director may:

  1. Provide information relating to radioactive waste to the legislature, local governments and state agencies that may be affected by the disposal of radioactive waste in this state.
  2. Consult departments, agencies, and institutes of the University of Nevada system or other institutions of the Universitry of Nevada system or other institutions of higher education on matters relating to radioactive waste.
  3. Employ, within the limitations of legislative authorization, technical consultants, specialists, investigators and other professional and clerical employees as are necessary to the performance of his duties.
  4. Make and execute contracts and all other instruments necessary for the exercise of the duties of the office.
  5. Obtain equipment and supplies necessary to carry out the provisions of NRS 459.009 to 459.0098, inclusive.

These powers would not have been excessive if Loux's purpose were merely to advise Nevada on nuclear waste disposal and how to mitigate any impact on the state. However, NWPO's director used his position to crush local dissent and manipulate scientific investigations while rewarding anti-nuclear activists both in Nevada and across the country. Each power granted Bob Loux was distorted to fit the needs of the national anti-nuclear lobby:

  1. Information to government agencies and the legislature: Since Loux's position, and the position of key politicians who maintained him in power, was that they would fight Yucca Mountain to the death, all potentially positive impacts of the repository were minimized or excluded in NWPO's reports to state agencies, the legislature and the media. Consequently, the research done by NWPO was worthless as documentation on which to base legislative decisions on appropriate compensation to Nevada in the likely case that the repository was sited there.
  2. University of Nevada interface: the loophole here is "Consult . . . the University of Nevada system or other institutions of higher education on matters relating to radioactive waste." Loux preferred to do almost all the socioeconomic impact studies using out-of-state sources although the UNLV campus in particular was uniquely qualified to do assessments of economic impacts on the gaming industry. The engineering departments at UNLV and UNR were blackballed. New Mexico avoided this problem in regard to the WIPP site by setting up a special institute within the University of New Mexico to study its similar repository based socioeconomic problems.
  3. Employment of Staff: Loux selected key consultants based not on their scientific expertise, but on their preconceived political opposition to Yucca Mountain. NWPO's scientific reputation was thus reduced to the point of non-existence, making the agency's work the laughing stock of the national scientific community.
  4. Make executive contracts: There is no full accounting of where major portions of nuclear rate payer money spent on NWPO went. In Chapter 12, The Money Tree, we show what is known about Loux's budget and while it nominally balances, this is a game of smoke and mirrors. For example, Clark University's Center for the Environment, Technology and Development and Decision Research (loosely associated with the University of Oregon) did the bulk of the socioeconomic consulting, yet we have no idea how much was spent on some of the rather dubious papers they wrote. Lump sums in the million to two million dollar range paid to Mountain West and later Coopers and Lybrand (which acquired Mountain West) seem to have been spent with little accounting of the diverse projects this money funded. The GAO objected to some of these expenditures in 1989.
  5. Obtain equipment and supplies: Even here there is a question of whether supplies were always used strictly for State business. For example, a graphic artist for NWPO also worked for Citizen Alert. It is likely the environmental lobby had undue access to NWPO.

In sum, Bob Loux was able to turn the Nuclear Waste Project Office into his own little fiefdom. A precedent for this hijacking of a state nuclear waste agency was provided by the Texas Nuclear Waste Program Office (TNWPO that was used to oppose Deaf Smith in the mid 80s. Steve Frishman, director of TNWPO, apparently learned the agency coup technique from the populist commissioner of the Texas Agriculture Department, Jim Hightower, (noted fore his speech at the Dukakis Democratic convention). Loux hired Frishman in 1987 to be a geologist for Nevada, although Frishman produces primarily political work.

Obviously, Loux's tenure at NWPO has been blessed. Loux owes his longevity in most part to Senator Richard Bryan, who had first appointed him director of NWPO in 1983. The relatively weak Governor Miller stands in Bryan's shadow and has little control over Loux's activities, a situation which must have caused Miller numerous nights of anguish. Miller's first public rebuke of NWPO only came when the agency was caught red handed furnishing documents on a proposed nuclear rocket project to the environmental group Citizen Alert before anyone else in the State had seen the report. More on this in later chapters.


One of Bob Loux's main duties has been to act as propagandist for the anti-nuclear position. We use the word propaganda carefully, because Loux obviously had a duty to provide information and analysis of repository issues to the public. However, Loux is a political appointee, not a scientist and many of his statements were calculated to provoke instinctual reactions rather than reasoned thought.

A July 22, 1992 report by Roger O'Neil on NBC News provides a typical example. After DOE representative and noted volcanologist Bruce Crowe explained how recent earthquakes near Yucca Mountain little affected the underground site, Bob Loux, responded not to the science, but instead claimed DOE was lying:

Well it proves one point, that DOE is going to be willing to say or do anything.

It reminds me of the old story about the optimist and the pessimist. When you throw the optimist into a room full of horse manure, he's the one looking for the poney. And I suspect DOE is trying to find the poney at Yucca Mountain. [O'Neil, Roger; NBC Nightly News, July 22, 1992]

In Loux's and NWPO's statements, DOE takes on a particularly ominous role, apparently never having told the truth on any scientific issue. However, Loux's own statements often stretched the truth:

Nobody thinks you need to bury the waste. It's safe to store it above ground for the next 100-150 years in dry cask storage. The NRC says its safe now at the power plants. They just adopted a rule and there is no need to move it. [KDWN Radio, January 21, 1992]

A complete review of what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission actually said ["1990 Waste Confidence Decision Review", published in the September 18,1990 Federal Register] shows something different.

. . . the Commission finds reasonable assurance that, if necessary, spent fuel generated in any reactor can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for at least 30 years beyond the licensed life for operation (which may include the term of a revised or renewed license) of that reactor at its spent fuel storage basin, or at either onsite or offsite independent spent fuel storage installations.

The NRC further stated:

the Commission does not dispute a conclusion that dry spent fuel storage is safe and environmentally acceptable for a period of 100 years. Evidence supports safe storage for this period. However, the NRC went on to state:

the Commission supports the timely disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste in a geologic repository, and by this Decision does not intend to support storage of spent fuel for an indefinitely long period.

No one debates whether individual facilities could safely store spent fuel aboveground, but it does not follow that the entire system of 110 reactor sites nationwide constitutes a safe on-site storage system. Loux either had not considered this possibility, or felt compelled to paint Yucca Mountain in a negative light no matter what the alternative. Another statement in the January 21, 1992 interview shows the extent to which Loux has made the debate one of fear:

It would take three million nuclear bombs at the test site to equal the amount of concentrated radioactivity they want to store at Yucca Mountain.

Of course, it could be argued that Loux and NWPO wanted to store that same three million nuclear bombs worth of concentrated radioactivity aboveground. Still another statement which stretched the truth in the January 1993 interview:

A repository is designed to leak by regulation. it will eventually get into the biosphere, groundwater, soil and everything else. There will be no way to know if it leaks.

Once again, on-site storage would by this analysis also be designed to leak and be even more likely to allow radioactive isotopes to reach the biosphere. Moreover, radioactive wastes are one of the easiest substances to trace if they leak through use of a simple Geiger counter or dosimeter.

Analyzing the body of Loux's statements, one finds two main currents:

  1. The science at Yucca Mountain is corrupt and escape of dangerous levels of radiation inevitable
  2. The DOE, the nuclear industry and even the U.S. government are not trustworthy

While the scientific facts will eventually sort themselves out, Loux's distrust of every institution outside his cloistered NWPO is troubling. First there is Loux's continuing effort to paint the DOE as a potentially fascist entity driven to harm America's citizens. This is reflected in comments made to Dr. Daniel Metlay, Executive Director of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board:

Despite (DOE's) effort at critical self-evaluation, the final draft of the "Final Report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Task Force on Radioactive Waste Management"continues to miss what may well be the central issue affecting trust and confidence in the civilian High Level Waste program. That is the issue of forced facility siting. Like a cancer in the corpus of the nuclear waste management and disposal effort, the continuing single-minded determination by the DOE to proceed with the Yucca Mountain repository in the face of technical concerns and strong and consistent State of Nevada opposition eats away at the credibility of any proposals that may be made for improving trust and confidence in the federal waste program.

As long as the State of Nevada remains the target of a forced siting process, with Yucca Mountain as its focus and symbol, none of the recommendations for improving trust and confidence in the Task Force report are likely to have much credibility. On the one hand, the DOE cannot expect to develop increased trust and confidence in the integrity of its program when, on the other hand, DOE continues to be engaged in the antithesis of that approach at Yucca Mountain. [Letter to Dr. Daniel P. Metlay, March 8, 1993]

More troubling is an effort to portray the U.S. government as an enemy of Nevada's citizens:

Recent letters to the editor in Nevada newspapers make the outlandish assertion that the federal government has offered the state $200 million per year since the early 1980s just to allow DOE to study the site -- no strings attached.

This is completely false.

There has never been that type of offer, nor could the federal government be held to it even if it were made. The federal government cannot be legally bound in any sort of agreement to provide compensation to a state like Nevada, even if Nevada was inclined to negotiate.

Alternatively, should the state seek "benefits," even just to let DOE study the site (as the author suggested), the state would forfeit its legal right to ever object to the project in the future. Nevada would have legally given its consent to the project, no matter how unsafe the site, no matter if the federal government made good on such an agreement. [Letter from Bob Loux to Nevada newspapers, NWPO letterhead, July 24, 1992]

While $200 million per year in benefits may not have been on the table, it is certain that in 1988 Senator Bennett Johnston, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had drafted legislation specifically setting up a schedule of $50 to $100 million in benefits, an amendment vigorously opposed by Nevada Senators Reid and Bryan as "nuclear blackmail". So Loux misstated the situation when he said " There has never been that type of offer"

Further, Loux's implication that all contracts with the federal government may be worthless.because "the federal government cannot be legally bound in any sort of agreement" is more revolutionary rhetoric than part of his mandate to provide scientific oversight. If the federal government cannot be trusted to make and abide by its own laws, created by democratically elected representatives, then apparently the only route left is through obstructionism, a controversial position to say the least.


The nearly secessionist views of Mr. Loux place him at the progressive populist end of the political spectrum. Indeed, a number of the consultants and friends of NWPO also share this ideology, which generically sees big business, high technology and the federal government as enemies of the people. Later we'll see that this is part of a larger decentralist movement (a hybrid of democratic anarchism and egalitarianism) which is more concerned with Yucca Mountain as part of this larger political revolution than as a technological question.

Bob Loux is a born and bred Nevadan and his opposition to Yucca Mountain plays to the growing Sagebrush Revolution which is taking hold of Nevada and the West. Ironically, Loux's father was a Nevada Test Site worker, so his opposition to a nuclear facility is somewhat unexpected. Indeed, the populism Loux and NWPO are forwarding appears to be imported from the academic and environmental community and not from Western individualist traditions.

Criticism of Bob Loux by representatives of DOE, site contractors and from the University system is often viewed by repository opponents as an attempt to silence a lone voice of dissent. In reality, the technical community voices concern that Bob Loux compromised the integrity of the Nevada's oversight over Yucca Mountain and did a disservice to the state and country. Rather than wanting a coverup, we have the unusual situation where the industrial complex is begging for more competent oversight by the affected state. The problem is that Loux and those he hired chose to promote a political and social agenda rather than do meticulous science. NWPO's lack of scientific rigor is embarassingly obvious to the PhDs and high-caliber technical consultants working on the Yucca Mountain project. NWPO became the laughing stock of the scientific community and lost its ability to do competent oversight of Yucca Mountain, and much of the blame for this situation must be placed on its director who ran the state agency as a personal fiefdom for over a decade.