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[cdn-nucl-l] Nye County seeks role in Yucca
Posted in the Las Vegas Review Journal on August 11, 2002 and at:
Nye County seeks role in nuclear waste project
By STEVE TETREAULT
STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON -- While Nevada's top officials are building lawsuits to
fight the Yucca Mountain Project, leaders in rural Nye County continue
to march in the opposite direction.
County commissioners said last week they plan to strengthen ties with
the Energy Department as it develops a nuclear waste repository within
the county's borders.
They hope to secure an inside track on health and safety protections and
economic benefits for the county's residents.
A new commission policy adopted Tuesday declares Nye County "intends to
engage energetically and constructively" with the DOE and Congress as
the repository moves into design, licensing and construction.
"We're not only stepping up, we're taking an active participation in the
process," said County Commission Chairman Jeff Taguchi, a minister and
businessman from Beatty. "Nye County has chosen to step up to the
The new policy widens Nye County's differences with Gov. Kenny Guinn,
Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign, and most other elected Nevadans who
continue to maintain a "hell, no" attitude on the Yucca Mountain
After losing votes in Congress to designate Nevada for nuclear waste
burial, the state has committed millions in donations and taxpayer
dollars in its Yucca Protection Fund to continue challenging the project
in court and in licensing hearings that will be organized by the Nuclear
But Nye leaders hear different drums. They are setting aside what they
once called their "aggressively neutral" position on the Yucca project
in favor of a more engaged approach.
They want to deepen the relationship to ensure that the giant, but
sparsely populated, county doesn't get overlooked as the project
progresses. County leaders believe the repository will become a reality
despite budget struggles, continuing questions about DOE science and the
looming legal battles.
Taguchi said he wants to talk to the DOE about possibly stationing a Nye
County employee within the Yucca project to help develop local
transportation and economic development policies. The county already has
a similar arrangement with the Bureau of Land Management.
"We would like to spend more time in Washington, D.C., working
policy-maker to policy-maker to everybody's mutual benefit," Taguchi
Nye County officials also have formed a "protection plan" that requests
privatizing 230,000 acres of federal land for county development, along
with access to tax credits and bond programs to lure in new businesses.
The county also wants the DOE to create a local research center for
nuclear waste and to place future Yucca Mountain administrative offices
in Nye County rather than in Las Vegas.
Nye County already has a relationship with the DOE. This year county
contractors wrapped up a three-year, $12 million geoscience grant in
which they collected modeling data on water flow and ground structure
from test wells around Amargosa Valley. Nye officials are seeking a
five-year, $25 million follow-up grant.
Taguchi maintains the financial relationship does not color the county's
views, other than its research has not turned up any "showstoppers" for
"We regard our work as independent," added Les Bradshaw, the county's
Natural Resources Department manager. "We're not doing their work, we're
doing our work that's in Nye County's best interests, its the best way
we can protect health and safety."
State leaders are not pleased that Nye officials do not share their
belief that the Yucca Mountain Project is poorly conceived and probably
will jeopardize Nevadans' health and safety if built 100 miles northwest
of Las Vegas to receive 77,000 tons of highly radioactive material from
all over the country.
"It's of concern that counties are independently talking to DOE," said
Bob Loux, who coordinates Nevada's anti-Yucca efforts as director of its
Agency for Nuclear Projects. "We'd like to see people keep an arm's
length from DOE but Nye County feels it has to look out for its own
Loux said he did not believe Nye County actions would have any impact on
the state's own efforts to kill the project.
"The counties are political subdivisions of the state, so there's not a
lot they can really do," he said.
Other rural Nevadans, however, might be interested in working alongside
Nye County in seeking cooperation with the DOE. Lincoln County officials
long have sought a station for Caliente through which nuclear waste
might be transferred on truck or rail for the final leg of shipment to
Taguchi and Caliente Mayor Kevin Phillips met Friday over coffee in Las
Vegas to discuss common interests on nuclear waste.
"The counties that are really impacted by transportation, if they got
together and are part of the same transportation solution, we're going
to accomplish more of our goals of reducing risk, mitigating impact and
maximizing benefits than we would independently," Phillips said.
The Energy Department said it welcomes the cooperation.
"As we have done in the past, we welcome and will continue to have an
open dialogue on the Yucca Mountain Project with all effected units of
government, including Nye County," DOE spokesman Joe Davis said.
Taguchi said Nye County still is not officially endorsing Yucca Mountain
Project, and would rather it not happen at all. But he acknowledges it's
getting harder to convince people that's not the case.
"Realistically what people are going to interpret is that Nye County is
going to participate," he said.