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Closing the Pahrump Valley Museum: The big picture

Recent talk concerning possible closure of the Pahrump Valley and Tonopah museums due to Nye County budget problems is disturbing.

Both museums do a fine job educating the public on local history and preserving and furthering our understanding of the past. They play an important role in tourism and helping foster a positive image of the county. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Pahrump Valley Museum board of directors.) But there is another factor that should be considered when it comes to closing the doors. Think of it as the big picture.

Three Big Problems

Three very large problems will increasingly affect humanity’s future. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but how we deal with these problems in the years ahead will have a lot to do with humankind’s future; indeed, perhaps whether or not we have a future. If we are successful in meeting these challenges, and I expect we will be—I’m an optimist—the entire human race will benefit, potentially bringing sizeable economic rewards to Nye County, central Nevada, and the state.

The first problem is world population growth. Current world population is estimated at 7.3 billion, increasing at a rate of about 83 million per year. (I remember when the world’s population was 2.5 billion, and I’m not that old.) By 2030, just 15 years from now, world population is projected to be 8.5 billion; by 2050, 9.7 billion; and by 2100, 11.2 billion.

All these additional people are going to need food and shelter and the other necessities of life, especially energy. If they don’t get them, we can expect great human suffering and unprecedented civil unrest.

The second great problem facing humanity is climate change. A recent editorial in the journal Nature, one of the three leading science publications in the world, stated, “It has been clear for some time climate change is a defining social, and therefore political, issue for the twenty-first century . . . the core science is solid.”

I know many in central Nevada are not comfortable with the idea that our world is heating up due in large measure to burning fossil fuels and inserting methane gas into the atmosphere. But the fact is, 97 percent of climate scientists think there is a powerful link between burning fossil fuels and a warming earth. A small number of researchers reject the idea, and we know some of them are financed by major fossil fuel-related interests.

Global warming in the coming decades will lead to rising sea levels; acidification of the oceans; bigger and fiercer storms; major disruptions in some of the most important food-producing areas of the world due, among other reasons, to melting of mountain glaciers and prolonged droughts. Desalinization of seawater will become a necessity if advanced human society is to be maintained in many areas of the world. A mega-drought lasting decades later this century has been predicted for the American Southwest.

A big reduction in the burning of fossil fuels is the only acceptable way out of the global warming scenario. Many authorities believe we will have to hold the rise in the earth’s temperature to about 3-1/2 degrees to keep things from getting real nasty. We can do it but it will take effort and money. We must kick the fossil fuel habit.

The third big problem humanity faces is energy itself. It is reasonable to assume that in the coming decades the world’s need for energy will grow, especially with population increases and rising temperatures.

Yet, if we cut back on burning fossil fuels, by far the world’s leading source of energy today, we are left with a huge energy shortfall. What do we do?

Increased use of renewable sources of energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal is part of the answer. But renewables will never fill the gap left by cutting way back on fossil fuels, let alone supply the needs of added billions of people.

Nuclear power is the answer. Nuclear power is a safe and reliable energy source 24/7, 365 days a year. With nuclear power, we can help preserve the future of human beings on this planet. Without it, all bets are off.

Nye County’s Role

So how do Nye County, Nevada, and its museums fit into this picture? In past years, the Nevada Test Site (aka NNSS) was a premier world nuclear research facility. A thousand A-bombs were tested there and nobody messes with the site. As I have noted before, it’s the perfect place to develop a one-of-a-kind world-class nuclear energy research center dedicated to advancing our understanding of producing nuclear energy for the benefit of all humanity. Yucca Mountain adjoins the Test Site.

If managed properly, construction of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository can usher in the development of a nuclear power research complex that will be the envy of the world.

Developing such a research program in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain and the Test Site makes a lot of sense and, needless to say, would be good for Nye County, Nevada. It will play a major role in helping meet humanity’s three coming challenges noted above.

I understand that Bill Gates—yes, that Bill Gates—is putting some of his own money into developing a new type of nuclear reactor. Estimated cost to build a prototype is $5 billion. And where are they talking about constructing it? China. How about building it on or adjoining the Test Site in Nye County? Such a project would go hand in hand with the research center in establishing Nye County’s leadership in nuclear power research.

Pahrump Valley Museum

The Pahrump Valley Museum is proud of its role in support of Yucca Mountain. It currently houses the only information complex for educating the public on nuclear waste storage in this country. Using its own money and that of donors, the museum is developing a factual educational website on nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain.

Moreover, the museum’s facilities are regularly used to hold public meetings on Yucca Mountain featuring leading governmental authorities and others.

The Pahrump Valley Museum is the one place in the United States where a citizen can go to learn about the storage of nuclear waste through interactive media and other displays and at the same time attend meetings on the topic.

The Pahrump Valley Museum’s role in educating the public and providing a forum for discussions on Yucca Mountain represents an important part of Nye County’s effort to help get Yucca Mountain back on track. It would be a shame to close the museum now and, in effect, pull the rug out from under the effort, just when it will be needed most.

Nye County is potentially a big winner not far down the road, both economically and in helping the world.

Bob McCracken has a doctorate in cultural anthropology and is the author of numerous books in the Nye County Town History Project, and the ongoing brothel history series in the Times.

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