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Nevadans concerned about Bush’s push to expand nuclear energy

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Nevada lawmakers critical of President Bush’s energy plan fear his push to expand nuclear energy would create more pressure to build a high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

Conservationists across the West also criticized the overall strategy Thursday as promoting heavily-polluting industries and energy exploration on public lands at the expense of the environment.

Bush’s new energy plan calls for the ”safe expansion” of nuclear energy by establishing a national repository for nuclear waste. It does not specify whether the repository should be built at Yucca Mountain.



”The Bush-Cheney plan promotes nuclear power as a miracle fix to our nation’s energy woes, just as it was 30 years ago – and we still don’t have a solution for the safe disposal of radioactive waste,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.

Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons agreed.




”Until we solve the nuclear waste issue, it is not a viable alternative in my view,” Gibbons said.

”The deep geologic burial of waste at Yucca Mountain is not a solution,” he said.

Bush said in unveiling the strategy in Minnesota Thursday that nuclear power is a ”clean and unlimited source of energy…”

”Many Americans may not realize that nuclear power already provides one-fifth of this nation’s electricity, safely and without air pollution. But the last American nuclear power plant to enter operation was ordered in 1973,” the president said.

In contrast, France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, Bush said.

”By renewing and expanding existing nuclear facilities, we can generate tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity at a reasonable cost without pumping a gram of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere,” he said.

”New reactor designs are even safer and more economical than the reactors we possess today. And my energy plan directs the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to use the best science to move expeditiously to find a safe and permanent repository for nuclear waste,” he said.

Nevada lawmakers were reviewing details of the 163-page report prepared by a White House energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

”While nuclear energy may be the cleanest energy producing material for the environment, it leaves the highest toxic waste material known to man in its wake,” said Gibbons, who earned a degree in geology.

Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, a Democrat, said Bush’s plan fails to address ”serious flaws associated not only with the Yucca Mountain project but in the transportation of deadly nuclear waste across the country.”

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he saw positive signs in Bush’s proposals, including funding for recycling and technology to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

”If the Bush administration wants to push nuclear power, I would support them in that effort, if it means they won’t be bringing nuclear waste to the state of Nevada,” Ensign said.

”But I will strongly oppose additional nuclear power plants as part of the Bush administration’s energy package if there is a push for storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain,” he said.

Ensign said it is cheaper and safer to store nuclear waste in dry casks at sites where it is produced than to ship it to store in Nevada.

In terms of direct references to Yucca Mountain, Reid said the language in Bush’s plan ”is much softer than I thought it would be.

”It’s not perfect by far, but it doesn’t call for interim storage. It doesn’t call for changing EPA standards. It even gives some hope in looking at other technologies,” said Reid, ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Conservationists denounced the overall plan as a giveaway to a wide variety of big industries.

”The Bush energy plan is an all-you-can-eat buffet for big oil, gas, mining, nuclear and timber,” said Brian Vincent, an organizer of the American Lands Alliance in Nevada City, Calif.

”Industry executives are salivating over this plan more than a Texan at a rib roast,” he said.

Dan Geary, a spokesman for the National Environmental Trust in Nevada, said the plan was ”cooked up in secret and marinated in money for oil, coal and nuclear power interests.

”The president’s plan is bad news for Nevada consumers and big trouble for Nevada’s pollution problem,” he said from Las Vegas.

Environmentalists are especially critical of Bush’s plans to increase energy exploration on public lands.

”Make no mistake, drilling in wilderness areas means forever sacrificing these places to development,” said Keith Hammond of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Bush’s strategy calls on the federal government to provide for the safe disposal of nuclear waste. It notes that nuclear waste currently is being stored at local plant sites.

”The DOE is over a decade behind schedule for accepting nuclear waste from utilities, but has made progress toward characterization of the Yucca Mountain, Nevada site,” the report said.

”Construction of an exploratory studies facility has been completed, a viability assessment was published, and recently scientists placed their extensive research about Yucca Mountain on the record for public scrutiny. However, key regulatory standards to protect public health and the environment at the repository have not been issued.”

Cheney said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week that while no site was favored, the Nevada site was the ”farthest along and most advanced…

”It’s been drawn out for a long time and if we want to promote the use of nuclear energy then clearly we’ve got to address the waste question and get it resolved.”


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