It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.
We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.“

Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.
Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at He also blogs at

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  1. In response to this article Yucca mountain has been proven for 30 years to be unsafe due to multifaceted literature . The time storage and travel aspects in itself are dangerous. There should be no negotiation for an unsafe outdated dinosaur It is never time to lower expectations of safety of lower standards to try to just have an easy fix which in every aspect could be deadly and now in an area with triple the development it had 30 years ago and more proven volcanic activity! I am very disappointed this continues to arise in discussion with every new president. Nevada will continue to put safety first and many in the country agree with Nevada that they are not comfortable with the movement of this toxic substance in addition to the site itself.

    • Colonel Robert E. Frank, USAF (Ret.) says:

      JM, the reason why this subject will NEVER go away is because it is just plain common sense for the U.S. to try to reclaim its hundreds of billions in R&D investments in nuclear power from use by China, Russia, and a dozen other nations to be in control of our civilization’s lifeblood–energy. Our future freedom depends on our being in control of our energy supplies. Letting our potential enemies into our civilization and control our energy production would be worse than buying their military weapons and allowing them to service our military bases within our states.

      Unlike some NV politicians, fully informed citizens can see that the lights of the future will come from new technology nuclear reactors that can produce 24/7/365 available, safe, low-cost, modular (from micro to massive configurations) electric power plants. Unlike other Carbon-Free energy plants, many of the new “Small Modular Reactors” have viable options for hardened protections from EMP, terrorism, cyberwarfare, natural disasters while also being able to efficiently power desalination plants, generating hydrogen fuel, and producing heat for seasonal and Arctic areas to steam heat facilities as well as to power steam electric generators.

      The path way to Nevada’s future leading position in this R&D area that could eclipse the Silicon Valley experience lies in Nevada electing to become a “nuclear recycling center” instead of being a million-year “dump”.

      No one wants a nuclear dump, but most reasonable people would like to know much more about our options . I would respectfully invite you to catch up on the new wave of possibilities described under our web site,

      Colonel Robert E. Frank, USAF (Ret.), Henderson, Chair and Co-Founder, NevadansCAN.COM (Citizen Action Network)

  2. Robert E. Frank says:

    30 years ago, there were no iPhones, no WiFi, no solar or wind farms and no six-figure electric cars that won drag races and could go over 140 mph. We could list thousands of other changes in the U.S and the world (not all for the good of humanity), but I am sure you can appreciate the fact that the options for safely handling and recycling spent nuclear fuel have changed dramatically as well. It is also true, in many cases, that some of our state and national politicians seem to have financial and other business goals opposed to the affordable energy needs and desires of us citizens.

    If you are willing to consider the new and amazing options available for this unique state and for the American public in the global race to dominate/control of civilization’s life-blood of abundant, affordable, assured and reliable energy, please review this website. It has been developed over the past few years by a broad team of scientists, nuclear engineers, retired NNSS technicians, very successful business people, concerned politicians, and citizens who are passionate about the development of Nevada in reasonable ways.

    It is focused on the future of Carbon-Free Energy with emphasis on advanced nuclear energy technology that can dominate the future global markets for electric power, and how the critical decision in 2018 on Yucca Mountain is critical to your future in ways you may have not realized. It explains how to reject the obsolete, “million-year storage dump” concept and to switch to a “Recycle” plan that safely grows our economy while sending/selling the new fuels to the global nuclear power plants to our state’s massive benefits.

    Recycling the spent nuclear fuel rods on facilities to be built for about a $Billion on the old Nuclear Test Site and turning “waste” into high value products while earning huge economic benefits can avoid absorbing a million-year “dump”. NV is in an amazingly strong negotiating position if we just choose to be a powerful player instead of continuing to claim to be the victim of past Washington swamp dwellers. We choose to be strong warriors instead of being victims.

    The new nuclear fuels would be safely sent out of Nevada to the global markets while our citizens experience the financial benefits from a verifiably credible, new business boom that leaders like former Governor Bob List compares with the long-term results in Silicon Valley and from our historic gold and silver booms.

    So, is it possible for most of us citizens can agree to reject the “dump” plan formulated in the past few decades, and to get behind the modern alternative plan to “recycle” the material and make it the cornerstone for making the Nevada Nuclear Security Site into the “U.S. Carbon-Free Energy Center of R&D and Manufacturing”? What a golden opportunity!

    The following website materials should help you sort out the new truth from the obsolete thinking. Becoming the national HUB for nuclear recycling is exactly what we need to jump start into a new economic future for our state that goes well beyond mining and gaming. And, our “NevadansCAN Common Sense Plan for Yucca Mountain and the NNSS” should help you appreciate the fantastic economic possibilities our state would be forfeiting if we fail to modify our current political position.

    If you review our detailed thinking and can agree that we may be on the path to a better plan for Nevada, will you help us spread the word? Even if you not understand or cannot agree with every element of our proposal, can you help open the debate into practical direction so it is not mired in the same old “dump” discussion?

    Robert E. Frank, Colonel, USAF (Ret.), Henderson, Chair & Co-Founder, NevadansCAN.COM
    For more info: info@NevadansCAN.COM
    My LinkedIn Profile:

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