The mayor of rural Caliente said his town would welcome the jobs that could come if a railhead is built nearby for shipment of nuclear waste to a Nevada nuclear waste dump.
Kevin Phillips told state legislators Monday that he hoped more than 100 jobs would open at federal Energy Department facilities including a railroad maintenance center, a transportation operations center and a site for maintaining casks used to ship waste to Yucca Mountain.
He pointed to a 1975 state Legislature resolution urging Congress to select the Nevada Test Site for disposal of high-level radioactive waste, and said Caliente leaders have not wavered in their support for the repository.
"The political winds basically changed in the rest of the state," Phillips told the Legislature's Committee on High-Level Radioactive Waste.
Gary Lanthrum, national transportation director for the Energy Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said no decision has been made about where transportation support facilities would be located. But he said some would probably be close to the repository, at the western edge of the vast test site.
State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said he and others who believe the Yucca Mountain repository is inevitable would be upset if Caliente did not get economic benefits.
The Energy Department announced April 5 that it wants to build a 319-mile railroad line from Caliente, near the Nevada-Utah border 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, north around the test site to Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The department plans to submit a license request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by December, and begin shipping and entombing 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and government waste from 39 states at the repository starting in 2010.
Nevada opposes the repository plan and is challenging the project in federal court.
Phillips said his economically depressed community of 1,200 people on the main Union Pacific line between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City wants the business the shipments would bring, and could handle emergencies with financial assistance and training from the federal government.
"We view the rail corridor as an economic benefit for us," Phillips said of his town, where the main employers are Union Pacific and the Caliente Youth Center.
He said his hardware store is 36 yards from the Union Pacific line, over which 50,000 shipments of hazardous waste are carried annually.
Lanthrum told the legislators that more than 3,000 shipments of high-level radioactive waste have been made across the country over the years with no release of harmful radiation.
The Energy Department plans community meetings May 3-5 in rural Amargosa Valley, Goldfield and Caliente to describe the plan to ship waste over what it dubs the Caliente corridor.
State Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said he was skeptical the plan will benefit Caliente and rural counties.
"A lot of these counties are owned 98 percent by the federal government and have declining populations," Rhoads said. "They have little hope of attracting companies."
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