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Letter to the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times

Alternative perspective on Yucca Mountain project

Prognosticating on when Interstate 11 would realistically be built, Darrell Lacy, Director of Nye County Natural Resources and Federal Facilities, estimated construction to be “at least 30-50 years” away (PV Times - 8/24/18). I would say this will not happen until flying cars make surface infrastructure irrelevant. The federal government is not going to be inclined to invest tens of billions of dollars in a state whose obstinacy toward the national repository for spent nuclear fuels under Yucca Mountain may cost the country as a whole up to $300 billion for alternative storage arrangements. Walt Grudzinki’s admonition (PV Times - 8/10/18) to leave the spent nuclear fuels at the 100-plus sites where they were generated constitutes a national security nightmare and profound environmental risk over the long term.

The argument that Nevada should not be the final resting place for wastes generated in other states can be flipped on its head because those states incurred a much greater risk of operating nuclear reactors to generate clean, carbon-free electricity while Nevada relied on fossil-fuel generators.

And what is the price for keeping prime waterfront real estate off the market while full decommissioning cannot be accomplished because of spent fuels remaining on site? My mother and I took walks up the Lake Michigan shoreline that were interrupted by the Zion nuclear power plant sitting squat on the lakefront in the path of public recreation. The plant was shut down in 1996, but will remain off limits until the spent nuclear fuels are evacuated. Redevelopment is stymied by DOE’s failure to remove them.

Referring to the three web addresses in reverse order by which they were furnished by Mr. Grudzinski, I can find no mention of Colorado or uranium being mined there in the Wikipedia article. Contrary to Mr. Grudzinski’s description of raw uranium as “more volatile,” this very heavy mineral on the periodic table remains solid in the reactor and afterward in a different constitution.

When Nevada goes hat-in-hand to the federal government for assistance with long-neglected transportation and water infrastructure, politicians from other states are going to remember the enormous sacrifice the nation is incurring by not having a centralized repository so that their Nevada counterparts may continue to oppose Yucca Mountain for their own cynical purposes.

“Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is a lesson from preschool the Not In My Own Back Yard (NIMBY) crowd should remember when contemplating how the state will go it alone meeting enormous region-wide infrastructure challenges without a federal partner. The second website Mr. Grudzinski refers to is the Southern Nevada Water Authority that was just denied a permit by the state engineer for its blatant water theft from the Snake Valley. This is a “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” scheme because there is no surfeit of water in northeastern Nevada and western Utah. Touring Lehman Cave under Great Basin National Park the guide explained that the water table was so depleted that we no longer had to worry about drippage from the ceiling. The water authority should save its ratepayers’ money and turn its “straw” 180 degrees around to the southwest and tap the Pacific Ocean, an unlimited and now overly prolific source with sea level rise. Israel is perfecting technologies to desalinate water as it is moved so that it would be equivalent to distilled once reaching Las Vegas. Pahrump could tap into this to foster a local industrial renaissance. Our depleted aquifers are never going to be contaminated from the north because Yucca Mountain and the Nevada National Security Site lie in a totally different basin that flows west-southwesterly. For some real “science” look at this report, https://www.nnss.gov/docs/docs_publicaffairs/2016_GWOH_Posters.pdf of intensive studies by the Department of Energy illustrating groundwater flows out of the NNSS.

The third website provided by Mr. Grudzinski purports to be a complete compilation of earthquake activity, indicating the strongest jolt to be 4.5 at Sandy Valley. To be honest, as I must be about the environment and national security, there was a 6.5 under Little Skull Mountain in 1992. Why did that not cause major damage and curtail further studies of Yucca Mountain? Because the rock is so solid as to minimize damaging shock waves. Seismic activity is only one side of earthquake risk; the other side is solidity of the rock. The greatest potential seismic risk is not from the coastal faults with ancillary fissures heading inland, but rather from the New Madrid fault that caused the greatest earthquake to hit the North American continent in 1811. What makes the New Madrid fault system of such concern are the soft soils predominant in southern Illinois, western Kentucky and southeastern Missouri. A 4.4 earthquake in 1987 toppled cocktail glasses 300 miles away in Chicago because bedrock lies hundreds of feet below the surface of the Midwestern terrain that transmits even minor tremors with such intensity. Not such a great place for storing the spent fuels which are now at dozens of reactors.

The late Senator John McCain would have condemned the NIMBY-ism exhibited by Nevada politicians toward Yucca Mountain as a detraction from our national purpose. He would have made Yucca the centerpiece of a “Southwest Infrastructure Initiative” addressing the overtaxed Colorado River Basin, completion of Interstate 11 up to Canada, and building out of Nevada’s rail infrastructure to handle all waste going into the Nevada National Security Site. This freight network would be a backbone for industrial development. There is a steady stream of lower-level waste moving by truck right through Pahrump on 160 and 372. This should be unacceptable, as should high-level waste currently under far less than permanent protection at the Nevada National Security Site. These are all matters to be resolved in a final settlement between the state and federal government.

Bill Stremmel

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