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  • "An area previously determined to be the best adapted for such purposes":Nevada, Nuclear Waste, and Assembly Joint Resolution 15 of 1975
  • Andrew Newman (bio)

In its Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 budget request, the Obama administration stated that finding a solution to the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste "must be based on sound science and capable of securing broad support, including support from those who live in areas that might be affected" and proposed to eliminate the Yucca Mountain repository program.1 In its FY 2011 budget request, the administration did precisely that, declaring Yucca "not a workable option" and eliminating all funding.2 The president created a Blue Ribbon Commission to comprehensively review policies for "managing used nuclear fuel and other aspects of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle," and on March 3, the Department of Energy (DOE) filed a motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application with prejudice.3 This fulfilled a campaign promise and ostensibly brought to an end several decades and more than $14 billion of research in the Nevada desert.4 [End Page 432]

Given the vocal hostility of the Nevada congressional delegation and a succession of Nevada governors,5 it is tempting to infer that Silver State opposition to a nuclear waste repository has been perpetual; that would be wrong. On May 21, 1975, a Nevada Assembly Joint Resolution 15 (A.J.R.15) "strongly" urging the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA)6 to "choose the Nevada Test Site for the storage and processing of nuclear material" was approved by the governor.7 A.J.R. 15 also urged ERDA to co-locate the nuclear waste storage site with a national solar energy research and development program, as mandated in the Solar Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 1974.8 In its justification, the legislature provided a detailed rationale:

  1. 1. The former Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) demonstrated "outstanding concern for nuclear safety" and "outstanding safety record" at the Test Site

  2. 2. Southern Nevadans' confidence in the Test Site's safety record and the staff's ability to maintain such safety in handling nuclear materials

  3. 3. Clark County's unemployment rate, "20.7 percent higher than the disturbingly high" average

  4. 4. The "serious anxieties and doubts" of people and leaders in many states being considered for the storage and processing of nuclear material

  5. 5. Southern Nevada's ideal environment for exploring the potential of solar energy

  6. 6. The existing facilities, support infrastructure, and years of experience in nuclear material handling are "a tremendous existing resource" and are well suited to nuclear material storage/ processing, solar energy research, and other scientific research with minimal capital investment relative to other locations

  7. 7. National energy independence and a clean environment are dependent upon tapping non-fossil-fuel sources of energy.9

The current state of the U.S. economy and the federal energy debate bear striking similarities to the conditions that existed in 1975.10 Yet there has been very little in-depth research on A.J.R. 15; it does not even register as a footnote in most histories of U.S. nuclear waste policy. This article does two things: first, it provides a rigorous account of how this unique invitation to the federal government came about, an invitation that has not previously been [End Page 433] explored in detail; and second, it offers recommendations based on the A.J.R. 15 experience, as well as lessons drawn from the landmark repository programs in Sweden and Finland, for future efforts to site a repository. To be sure, the applicability of this case study to the present must be tempered. The resolution is, in part, the product of a particular moment in time that reflected Nevada's nuclear history and preceded decisions that ERDA's successor, DOE, and the U.S. Congress made in the 1980s, which effectively poisoned federal-state relations, but lessons can be learned nonetheless.

Nevada's accommodating approach stands in stark contrast to other states identified by the AEC as potential sites for storing high-level waste and the 1975 resolution was the first, and most important, broadly debated...


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