The Screw Nevada Two Bill

Today I heard an interview on my local NPR radio station with Representative John Shimkus R-ILL. Despite not having any nuclear power plants in his largely rural congressional district, Mr. Shimkus is the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. In 1987, the federal government passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act aka the “Screw Nevada” bill. The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, chaired by Representative Shimkus, which seeks to restart the Yucca Mountain project, is known locally as the Screw Nevada Two Bill.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as an undergraduate and then a graduate teaching assistant in the History Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (UNLV), I served as publicity liaison and later the director of the Coalition for Peace and Justice. In addition to organizing protests against the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, we supported the anti-nuclear testing movement and the Yucca Mountain initiative, along with groups such as American Peace Test and Nevada Desert Experience. On March 12, 1988, I was arrested for civil disobedience with Martin Sheen, Carl Sagan, Teri Garr, Casey Kasem, and 1,200 other activists for trespassing at the Nevada Test Site. I later feared this arrest would prevent me from getting my teaching license in 2000, but fortunately it didn’t.

What are the arguments for placing the nation’s nuclear dump site in Nevada?

• The proposed dump site is in middle of the desert on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, where more bombs have been detonated than anywhere else in the world.

• Can you say toxic land?

• Many elected leaders and members of the public feel that nuclear waste should be permanently stored in a single, centralized location. This plan is especially popular in areas where nuclear waste is stored on-site at nuclear power plants.

Why does Nevada reject the “honor” of housing the nation’s 77,000 tons of nuclear waste?

NIMBY: Not in my backyard! Yucca Mountain is 100 miles from Las Vegas – the entertainment capital of the world. While the desert may seem to be wasteland to many, it is home to many more.

• Yucca Mountain is geologically unsafe for the below ground storage of any type of waste – nuclear or otherwise.

• According to a University of Indiana report, the water table is 2,000 feet below the surface. But once you dig down to bury the waste, the water table gets substantially closer, so eventual leakage is inevitable.

• In addition, aside from Yucca Mountain, which is a volcanic structure, virtually all the mountains in Nevada were formed along fault lines. According to State of Nevada documentation, “since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain.” On June 29, 1992, a 5.6 magnitude quake hit Little Skull Mountain, which is less than eight miles from Yucca Mountain. It is not hard to imagine a situation where another earthquake cracks a cask of nuclear waste, leaking the contents into the groundwater and the environment.

• Construction and operation of the waste dump will be a huge waste of water, which is a very valuable and scarce resource in the desert southwest.

• Finally, the transportation of nuclear waste to Nevada via trucks and trains will result in numerous accidents and will be subject to terrorist activity. As an undergraduate, I was employed in a grant-funded survey conducted by the UNLV Sociology Department, wherein I went into people’s homes to present them with data about nuclear transportation and storage. I then recorded their responses to the facts I presented.

Let’s be clear, nuclear waste is very bad stuff. It is dangerously radioactive for 10,000 – 100,000 years. I will be an anti-nuclear advocate until the day I die. Einstein regretted his role in developing the nuclear bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear testing has resulted in countess incidents of cancer – especially thyroid cancer and leukemia – among Downwinders: residents of Southern Nevada, Utah, and other neighboring states. Chernobyl demonstrated the danger of nuclear power in 1986, and the Fukushima disaster after the 2011 earthquake in Japan reemphasized the danger. The United States should follow the example of Germany and begin phasing out nuclear power plants immediately. Clearly, the world needs energy for survival, and we now have the technology for clean energy through solar, wind, and water sources. Coal is effectively dead – keep that shit buried and retrain the miners for 21st century jobs rather than the 18th, 19th, and 20th century lifestyle they have been enduring. For the record, Donald Trump does not support the continuation of coal mining for the miner’s sake. Like his advocation for other elements of the fossil fuel industry, in his short-sighted world view, Trump supports fossil fuel usage for the benefit of mine and oil industry owners and shareholders. (See my earlier post: Trump’s Short Game.)

Virtually all elected officials in Nevada oppose Yucca Mountain – most notably former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Back in the day, the vast majority of Nevadans also opposed Yucca Mountain. In many ways, it is an urban vs. rural standoff. Many citizens in Nye County support Yucca Mountain thanks to promises of job creation and financial incentives. This is not a Democrat vs. Republican argument, it is a state vs. state argument and an issue of states’ rights.

The current challenge for the anti-Yucca Mountain movement is the staggering population change in Southern Nevada. In 1990, the population of Clark County was around 750,000; today the population is close to 2.16 million. These new residents are largely ignorant about the issues involved with the transportation and storage of nuclear waste. It is imperative that this new generation becomes educated concerning the gravity of the situation.

In recent months, we have seen the nuclear threat amp up with the dialog between President Trump and his “Little Rocket Man.” Kim Jong-un is dangerous crazy. Donald Trump is dangerous and his sanity – in my opinion – is questionable at best. His mental health has been questioned by prominent psychologists and laymen alike. Is dementia part of the package? Or is it all a calculated ploy to provide an insanity defense in the case that his actions are indeed criminal? Either way, Trump’s comments during and after the election about using nuclear weapons are beyond disturbing.

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