Help against Yucca

At first, it sounded like an odd place to hold a news conference. Meet in Las Vegas at the old dirt lot behind the Icehouse Lounge down by the railroad tracks. It hardly seemed like a sexy site for the anti-Yucca crew to come together.

As Citizen Alert Director Peggy Maze Johnson got ready to kick it all off, a Union Pacific freight train blew its whistle and rolled to a stop—as if on cue. Without missing a beat, Johnson cracked: “That one’s not carrying nuclear waste, we don’t think.”

While the Department of Energy promises that radioactive casks shipped to Yucca Mountain will never cross into Clark County, instead proposing to build an $880-million rail line from Caliente to the repository, not everyone is convinced. Certainly not Johnson, who said the DOE has written in exclusions that allow it to trump any local opposition to a transportation plan.

This is bad news perhaps for Minnesota Rep. Frank Hornstein, who—along with two fellow state lawmakers—got an earful from both sides during a tour of Yucca Mountain and a sit-down with Johnson and Co. last month. When Hornstein returned home to discover that under current route proposals nuclear waste would travel through his Hennepin County district, he decided it was too dangerous for his constituents. He now says he’ll introduce legislation to prevent shipments through all heavily populated Minnesota neighborhoods.

Hornstein, a member of Minnesota’s energy task force, said the transportation risks and the potential for an accident in his state swayed his decision—but the meetings also left him questioning the mountain’s geology and its ability to contain the waste.

“There is concern now. It’s become a local issue for us,” said Hornstein in a phone interview from his Minnesota office. “A lot of people here don’t know that nuclear waste could pass right by their homes. Yucca Mountain should be an issue for any state that generates nuclear waste.”

That’s just what anti-Yucca folks, like Johnson, want to hear.

“When we share our story with them, the lights go on,” she said. The reason for the Feb. 5 announcements in the rail yard was threefold. First, to praise Hornstein for his decision; second, to say they’re taking the Yucca fight national; and lastly, to call on Nevada Republicans to stop the double-talk—that is, opposing the nuclear waste dump but supporting President Bush and his fast-track of the project.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins said opposition to Yucca Mountain is growing in other states as well, proving that Nevada’s education campaign is working.

“We’re finding that as people come to understand there will be 100,000 or more shipments through the United States, that none of them have the confidence the federal government can do anything 100,000 times without a disaster. And they don’t want to place their citizens at risk, either. The fight is not over.”

Johnson is hoping to join forces with other organizations to make Yucca Mountain an important issue for voters nationwide during the general election. She said the aim is to run television commercials and print advertisements in places like Chicago, St. Louis and Salt Lake City to inform voters of the DOE’s plan to transport nuclear waste through the heart of their cities.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus called on Nevada Republicans to become more active in opposing the project.

“We can no longer afford for it to be a half-baked effort. We need the Republicans to get on board and get on board whole-heartedly,” Titus said. “You can’t say to the people back home, ‘Yeah, I’m opposed to it,’ and then go wink-wink to the nuclear power industry. It’s time to look the power industry in the eye and say: ‘No way, no how, no time is Nevada gonna roll over to Yucca Mountain.’”