I’ve been meaning to write about this for a little while. I just needed a push, I guess.
Last May, I spent a few days in Lincoln County on the eastern side of Nevada. There aren’t many people out there, but there are several places deemed interesting enough and beautiful enough to be named state parks in a pretty small area. In fact, I think there are five in Lincoln County, which is a lot. The towns you’ll know out there are Caliente, Alamo, Pioche, and Panaca.
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I stayed one night in Alamo and two in Caliente while we were taping The Nevada Passage. I got to know the towns just a tiny bit, but I got to know the landscape around there pretty well. One of the days we taped in Rainbow Canyon, which is south of Caliente. It’s basically a road, a river, and a set of railroad tracks. The walls are pretty steep, and we taped rock climbing there. Caliente has one pretty signature building, and it’s a railroad dept. The depot is pretty cool-looking, really. The tracks that run down Rainbow Canyon are the same tracks that at one time made Caliente a town requiring a fancy railroad depot.
That’s when it hit me. Lincoln County is the home of just about all the people who work in Nevada’s famed Area 51. While I was there I heard Little League games at night, and I thought about how alive this tiny little town seemed. Well, that’s probably because there are a lot of working people there. They have to drive quite a ways every day to get to the gates of the secret base in the middle of the desert, but they all live in this area. That makes it a pretty active little place.
The railroad tracks run from the east (Utah) and turn south in Caliente. From what I can tell on the map, they’re the only ones in the area that come directly from the east. Their southern turn takes them to Las Vegas. That makes them pretty busy. We saw several trains moving in each direction while we spent about three hours taping the rock climbing in Rainbow Canyon. I’d call that a pretty busy stretch of rail.
What really hit me that day was that this, this stretch of rail, was the same rail that would be carrying nuclear waste from all over the country to Yucca Mountain. With the amount of traffic already keeping this active, and the location of it, it all it home for me. Prior to spending any time out there, I never thought about where it would really be coming from or where it would actually wind up. Yucca Mountain, which is always described as “90 miles northeast of Las Vegas,” was a southern Nevada thing. Nevada is a pretty big place. So it wasn’t an issue that I would ever really see or care much about. But ever since that day, I have thought about it a lot when hearing of Yucca Mountain.
Today, I got an email from Assemblyman Ty Cobb. I had signed up for his email newsletter some time ago, so I was included along with everyone else who had. Longtime readers of this site will remember that Ty Cobb faced a pretty dirty campaign against him in 2006. But he survived it and went on to re-election in 2008. I have met Ty one time, very briefly, since that ordeal. In fact, it was so brief that I was on my way out of a function and only stopped to introduce myself and be on my way.
Anyway, the email is a brief survey about Yucca Mountain and what Ty Cobb is apparently advocating in the Assembly. That would be to accept Yucca Mountain as the permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste and cease all opposition to that same thing. According to the questions, it costs Nevada about $10 million annually to fight the project, and we could likely receive a lot of money from both the Federal government and other states by accepting the project. None of this is really that new. When I was in college in 1993 I was at a meeting where they brought this same idea up. It never got traction, probably because of the reason I’m hesitant to it. Transportation of the waste is a pretty scary proposition, right?
Except I also have in my head this idea about a professor at UNR who was developing shipping containers for the waste. The only reason I cared about reading the clippings I saw posted on the walls at Mackay Science where I saw them was that he was the father of a couple of kids who went to school with my kids. We had sat with this guy at a few parties and chatted about this and that, but I had no idea what he did. After seeing those, I knew. And the articles that were posted made it seem like there was no way in hell the waste could possibly leak out of them in the event of a catastrophic trainwreck. I walked away thinking that what this guy did was pretty cool and could mean boatloads of money for Nevada, but the politics were in the way. They still seem to be.
So I answered the email survey (something I pretty much never do). I answered it honestly. I said that I pleased with Ty Cobb’s leadership and that I greatly respected his principled stand for all things conservative. I believe his philosophy that there has to actually be a real opposition party is the correct one. I also said I disagreed with some of his principles. I’m not opposed to new taxes, but they better be taxes that help in the long run and don’t just get us out of our current troubles. When asked about Yucca Mountain, I basically said I could be swayed to allow the dump to be placed here, but that I now was very aware of what that meant. Without the perfect plan to ship and store the waste, there are real people we would be affecting. It’s something that I wonder if a Reno assemblyman realizes, just as I failed to realize it before taking a trip that most Reno residents would never have the need to take.
Hopefully, Ty Cobb will read what I said and consider it carefully. Hopefully you have. I would love to know what you think about Yucca Mountain. I understand that a large number of you will have a reaction that says no way no how. But I also wonder if you’ve really thought about it. What if it could bring us out of our economic troubles? What if the shipping really was safe? Would that change your mind? Why or why not? Conversely, what if it’s a really bad idea? Have you ever thought about how it affects the people of Nevada? Whichever side you happen to see yourself on now, it could always do us good to have a grasp of what we’re battling. Let’s think about that. I’d love to hear from you.