Where have the billions gone?

Celia S. Hecht is a Reno author, journalist and activist.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is moving full steam ahead with the site recommendation to store tons of high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada, and no one seems to be asking him if vested interests bought and paid for his approval. In these troubled economic times, inquiring minds want to know.

On Jan. 10, Abraham notified Governor Guinn that within 30 days he will recommend the geologically unstable site to the President as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. This comes in spite of a report saying that the Department of Energy will not be ready to make this recommendation for another six years, until 300 technical questions are answered. It comes while the Department of Transportation still has grave concerns about the 100,000 moving targets to be shipped across 44 states.

Abraham received thousands of dollars in contributions from the nuclear power industry in his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 2000. NEI contributed $4,000, and DTE Energy gave $5,000 for the failed bid. Exelon, Constellation and FirstEnergy each ponied up $2,000. Abraham also accepted at least $9,500 from Enron between February of 1999 and October 2000.

Ironically, in a letter to then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson dated Aug. 27, 1998, then-Governor of Michigan Spencer Abraham said of the possible shipment of plutonium:

“It is my understanding that local elected officials and residents were unaware of the draft environmental assessment … It is imperative that a public hearing be conducted … prior to the environmental assessment. To not do so would be irresponsible and offensive to Michigan residents.”

Funny. Nevadans have not been shown the Final Environmental Impact Statement, prior to the rushed, poorly planned final site recommendation hearings on Yucca Mountain.

You have to wonder how many dollars it has cost to contribute to political campaigns, to lower radiation standards and to impede the progress of scientists with genuine solutions. How much is budgeted to fight lawsuits and hire spin doctors to skew the term “national security"?

What does it cost to ignore a broad coalition of 232 national environmental organizations, Indian tribes, business groups and consumer advocates, who have all urged the president to deny the recommendation, in order to move forward with this ill-fated project, 90 miles northwest of the fastest-growing city in America and 12 miles from a national monument, Death Valley?

Who’s footing the bill?

In a few months, after Spencer Abraham recommends the site to President Bush, Bush approves it, Nevada vetoes and Congress casts the decisive vote (a majority will have to override Nevada’s veto), we will once again be asking how many politicians does it take to screw Nevada.

If we Americans want our children to have a livable future, we are going to have to take our power and the dollars we control and say no.