Nevada should accept nuclear waste

Good news, bad news: Chanelle has taken a job at Fortune magazine, which means RN&R is looking for a new conservative columnist. If your views are more libertarian than neocon, send three sample 600-word columns on local issues to

With recent discussions about a shipment of nuclear waste coming to Nevada from Tennessee, politicians and citizens alike feel the resurgence of mixed feelings about using the state as a nuclear waste repository, particularly in regard to Yucca Mountain, which seems to be becoming more of a political buzzphrase than a tangible idea. I’ve written before about my support for the development of nuclear energy and nuclear waste storage in Nevada, and I believe the time for further consideration of this highly lucrative and beneficial industry is upon us.

Radiation is clearly a concern for Nevada citizens. The ideas of contamination and poisoning rightly strikes fear into the hearts of many. When the earthquakes and tsunami that struck Japan several years ago caused radioactive leaks in its nuclear power plants, the exposure put many lives in danger and made people afraid of what could happen in other countries.

However, that kind of exposure is virtually impossible with the kind of waste repository that was being developed for Nevada. Not only is the expansive, isolated desert a perfectly protected environment against the elements, solid nuclear waste is packaged in thick ceramic coating and then stored in layered containers that can’t be exposed by accident. In addition, actual storage of the country’s nuclear waste would be relatively minimal given that much nuclear waste can be reprocessed and repurposed. The large amount of revenue that would funnel into the state as a result of the storage facility could do a lot for Nevada. I’m not suggesting that we sacrifice safety for money, but the truth is that threat of contamination is minimal and maintaining a state nuclear waste repository would do more good than harm.

The main reason a discussion at the federal level about nuclear waste storage in Nevada is getting so much recent attention is that there is a proposal that the waste will be transported on Las Vegas highways. While Yucca Mountain’s location about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas is far enough away from the city that the storage of radioactive materials would be inconsequential to most Nevada residents, there is public concern about the waste passing through metropolitan Las Vegas en route to the facility. People fear accidents and radioactive contamination, which, again, are unlikely. Of course, Las Vegas residents should have a say in what kind of materials are being transported through their home city, but there are far more pros than cons for getting involved with the nuclear industry.

Nuclear energy can be the solution to all U.S. energy problems. Going to war for oil or burning toxic fossil fuels that deplete the ozone and increase global warming can be things of the past. While alternative energy like wind, hydropower, solar or electric cars are all viable options for helping to solve the energy crisis, none will be as effective, clean and inexpensive as nuclear power.

The only way for nuclear energy to be taken seriously and be widely developed is for there to be a place to put what’s left over. With the issue of radioactive waste so present in the public’s mind, however, this energy source is not given sufficient consideration. I would encourage anyone with doubts about nuclear energy to research the facts. Granted, it’s not a layperson-friendly science, but it’s not acceptable to use the misconceptions about nuclear waste portrayed in Hollywood and in cartoons as a reason not to pursue it. Nuclear energy has been a large part of Nevada’s past, and it’s up to us to make it a part of Nevada’s future.