Nev. Republicans Tour Yucca Despite Political Risk

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Members of the Nevada Republican Party's Central Committee are being asked to reconsider their positions on Yucca Mountain, a nuclear waste dump that politicians representing the state have widely opposed.

The committee toured the controversial project site some 100 miles from Las Vegas earlier this month, hosted by Ward Sproat, the Bush administration official in charge of the project and Robert List, a former Nevada governor who has lobbied for Yucca Mountain on behalf of the nuclear industry.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden, who helped arrange the tour, said she wanted to give committee members an
opportunity to get all the facts on the project.

"I realize there are people who criticize even us taking this trip," Lowden said. "But why wouldn't you experience this for yourself before making up your mind?"

"Clearly, a lot of thought, a lot of years of research have gone into this," she said. "It's not a fly-by-night operation. It's something that's taken decades to come to this point."

But Republican Sen. John Ensign says he was surprised and a bit dismayed to hear about the trip, saying the project is bad for the country and should not be supported.

Politicians in Nevada have overwhelmingly expressed opposition to the project no matter which political party they are affiliated with. Gov. Jim Gibbons opposes it, as does Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and Republican Rep. Dean Heller.

"Good policy usually makes good politics - not all of the time - but most of the time," Ensign said. "In this case they do coincide."

Sproat, who has directed the Yucca Mountain program for three years, asked the committee members who made the trip to consider the issue as a U.S. citizen, not as a Nevada representative.

"If we as a country can't put our spent nuclear waste here, where the hell can we put it?" he said.

Nye County Commissioner Gary Hollis, one of the Republicans who made the trip, told the group that while his local board is neutral on Yucca Mountain, he is for it.

"I think it is the only place to do this," he said. "All these myths you hear, we're just going to put them in a hole and cover them with six inches of gravel."

List urged the committee to carry a message of support for Yucca Mountain to elected officials who have been put "into a corner" on the issue.

"You have got to tell them that you will give them political cover," he said. "Tell them you will give them the support they need to open their eyes."

Ny County Republican Party Chairwoman Fely Quitevis said the tour changed her thinking.

"Before I was against it, but now I am for it," she said.

Debate over Yucca Mountain could become irrelevent during the next administration if the project is squashed, as Ensign says it will be.

"It's just a question of whether it dies a real slow death or a faster death," Ensign said. "The bottom line is Yucca Mountain is literally on a ventilator and the writing is on the wall. It's in hospice care right now."

The Energy Department and nuclear industry disagree with that, and Sproat says the project has momentum to keep going because it is in the regulatory pipeline.

Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-12-21-08 1834EST


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