For decades now, the acrimonious debate over building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, located about 1,760 football fields away from Las Vegas, has generated enough heat to power a small third-world country.
But thanks to an op-ed by freshman Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, which was published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal two weeks ago, perhaps we will finally see some light on the subject.
To be sure, Hardy didn’t advocate in favor of Yucca Mountain. He simply suggested it was time for Nevadans to have a full, open discussion about Yucca Mountain.
He said before saying “no” to any deal with Congress for doing this service for the nation that we should (a) hear all the facts, not just the rhetoric and political propaganda, and (b) find out what potential benefits might be put on the table for our consideration.
Naturally, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s head exploded. Reid, after all, has built his political career on the back of hyper-ventilating knee-jerk opposition to Yucca Mountain.
“Rep. Hardy is living in a world that doesn’t exist,” Reid snarled in response to Hardy’s op-ed. “Opening the door to a nuclear dump in Nevada is not something I will ever accept.”
For her part, Rep. Dina Titus – another who has built a political career over opposition to Yucca – declared that anyone willing to negotiate on this issue was nothing more than “a prostitute haggling over the price.”
One might suggest that it takes a political prostitute to know one, but I’ll refrain.
For their part, Robert Lang and Willie Brown of the Brookings Institute weighed in, comparing Yucca Mountain to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in which the facility’s nuclear reactor suffered a near-meltdown after being hit by a tsunami.
But what we’re talking about at Yucca is storing spent nuclear pellets, not a nuclear power plant. Radioactive apples to radioactive oranges.
THE ART OF THE DEAL
“The next time you get pitched on swapping a nuclear dump for a token of federal aid,” the pair advised Hardy, “simply say Nevadans know a bad deal when they see one.”
But that’s exactly Hardy’s point.
We don’t know if it’s a bad deal because we’ve never been able to see one. And I guarantee you any deal in exchange for Yucca will NOT be in return for some “token” federal aid. It’ll have to be a bank vault’s worth just for the opening ante.
Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Sun reached a similar level of high dudgeon and near-hysteria, editorializing a week after publication of Hardy’s op-ed that the Republican congressman from Mesquite was “putting not only Las Vegas’ economy, but the lives of our children, grandchildren and generations of future Nevadans at risk.”
The paper called Hardy’s suggestion that we talk about this issue “stunning” and accused him of “betrayal.”
You can all but hear publisher Brian Greenspun wondering out loud, “Now where did I put that hangman’s noose?”
However, other more open-minded voices have also emerged from the shadows following the courageous violation of Yucca omerta by Rep. Hardy.
CAN WE TALK?
The Las Vegas Review-Journal itself, while maintaining its opposition to Yucca Mountain, seconded Hardy’s motion to begin a discussion, saying it was time for Nevada’s elected officials to “stop the alarmism.”
“Decades of politically expedient doomsday predictions have served no productive purpose and instead risked becoming self-fulfilling prophesies,” the newspaper editorialized last Sunday.
“Nuclear waste is not a hypothetical material,” the RJ continued. “It not only exists, it’s being stored safely in all kinds of environments. And Nevada’s nuclear proving grounds are isolated, unfit for productive use, and secure.”
The paper concluded with the following…
“So make us an offer we can’t refuse, Washington. Everyone has a price. No one knows that more than members of Congress. Just to remember to say, ‘Pretty please.’ We can always say no.”
Exactly. There is absolutely no harm in talking about this issue no matter how vehemently the opposition declares otherwise. Shutting down free and open speech on an issue of public policy is, indeed, as un-American as it gets.
And according to a new poll Citizen Outreach commissioned last week, a majority of Nevadans apparently now agree.
SHIFT IN PUBLIC OPINION
The auto-dial poll was conducted by PMI, Inc. The poll was conducted of 802 respondents out of 20,000 registered Nevada voters statewide, randomly selected, between March 26-30, 2015. The wording of the poll was simple and to the point…
“Hello, this is a quick, one-question survey about Yucca Mountain.
“Congressman Cresent Hardy recently wrote that Nevadans should open discussions with the federal government to see what kind of benefits we might receive in the way of increased funding for education, roads and a larger allotment of water from the Colorado River.
“Do you agree with Rep. Hardy that we should at least listen to any offers, or should Nevada continue to adamantly oppose Yucca Mountain regardless of what benefits might be put on the table. Press 1 if you think Nevada should be open to discussions. Press 2 if you think Nevada should continue to just say no.”
The results were surprising. A majority of respondents, 54.97 percent, agreed with Rep. Hardy that Nevadans should be open to having a discussion about Yucca, while 45.03 percent maintain their non-negotiable opposition.
The margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percent.
Interestingly, the poll over-sampled Clark County, where the vast majority of the population resides and where opposition has traditionally been both higher and more vocal. But even in Clark, support for Rep. Hardy’s position still garnered 53 percent support.
And as much as our elected officials would like us to believe this is not a partisan issue, a majority of Democrats surveyed, 55.8 percent oppose discussing the issue, while 61.8 percent of Republicans support opening discussions, while 60.3 percent of independents also support open debate.
This is truly a surprising reversal of the historical “just say no” public opposition to Yucca Mountain.
Granted, more in-depth scientific polling would delve deeper into both sides of the issue and likely reveal significant nuances to the responses, but even this superficial shift in overall public opinion in favor of discussions on the issue could be a game-changer.
Rep. Hardy’s suggestion to open discussions of this important “third rail” issue in Nevada took an awful lot of political courage.
The kind of courage maybe Nevadans should want in a new U.S. Senator?