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Industry Seeks to Change Nevadans’ Minds About Nuke Dump

September 9, 1991

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Nevadans who once watched mushroom clouds form in the desert north of here - the signature of another nuclear test - now say they’ve had enough of things nuclear.

Surveys show a majority of residents are opposed to placement of the nation’s first high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of this gaming capital.

But some of that resolve may be starting to wilt under a campaign being mounted by a nuclear power industry saddled with tons of radioactive fuel rods.

Political consultant Kent Oram, who painted frightening scenarios in the 1980s of a dump disaster that would render Las Vegas a ghost town, now says Nevada can live with the project.

And real estate executive Bob Gore contends the repository is a done deal, whether Nevadans want it or not. He suggests the state should quit fighting the federal government, and get all the perks it can by accepting the controversial project.

Still, there are plenty of doubters. A poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last fall showed 77 percent of Nevadans surveyed opposed placing the repository at Yucca Mountain.

And Sen. Richard Bryan, who fought the repository as governor and now fights it in Washington, poses a question: If the dump is such a good deal, why aren’t other states lining up for a shot at it?

″I don’t think a nuclear dump will ever be built anywhere in the country,″ Bryan said in a recent interview.

If he’s right, that could be bad news for the nuclear power industry. Spent radioactive fuel rods, which will remain ″hot″ for thousands of years, are collecting in pools at the nation’s 110 nuclear power plants, waiting for a permanent home.

The industry has spent billions of dollars searching for that elusive home. Congress decreed in 1989 that Nevada’s Yucca Mountain would be the lone candidate to be studied for the repository.

Some scientists have said the dump would be safe to store 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste for the next 10,000 years.

Oram once prepared anti-dump ads for Nevada politicos, including one that warned, ″One leak, one accident, would turn Las Vegas into a ghost town overnight.″

Now he’s preparing commercials for the American Nuclear Energy Council urging Nevadans to give the dump a chance.

″I was wrong,″ he said of the earlier, ominous commercials. ″I thought it (nuclear waste) was a liquid and could explode. I thought it could blow up and irradiate our town. I was dead wrong. I didn’t know it at the time.″

Gore and a partner, Frank Tussing, have formed an organization called The Vision Project. They say they are opposed to the repository, but believe it’s coming to Yucca Mountain despite the objections of Nevadans. They believe the state should work with the federal government to get the most it can in terms of roads and jobs in exchange for taking the dump.

″Our biggest fear is that the only thing we’re going to get out of this thing is the repository,″ Gore said.

Bryan believes the technical obstacles to a dump in the continental United States are insurmountable. He says that scenario frightens a nuclear power industry faced with a growing stockpile of radioactive fuel rods.

″They are frustrated they won’t be able to expand unless they can get a nuke dump,″ Bryan said. ″They could care less about Nevada.″

The senator disputes the idea the state can earn economic perks from Uncle Sam in return for accepting the dump.

″With the budget crisis in Washington, the notion that somewhere there is money being dangled out there for Nevada is a bit foolhardy,″ Bryan said.

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