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Such a Waste 

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As Private Fuel Storage gears up for what now seems its inevitable housing of up to 40,000 tons of spent nuclear-fuel rods on land owned by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, most of us stand appalled and frightened. But, as my grandmother used to say when faced with a situation she couldn’t control, “Sometimes it’s better to laugh than to cry.”

We’ve got plenty to laugh about. It would, of course, be fantastic if Utah’s congressional delegation found an 11th-hour solution blocking this massive shipment of nuclear waste inside state lines. But barring some last-minute miracle by the White House, which some people oddly reckon owes us a big favor, the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the sudden emergence of nuclear-waste-recycling technology, let’s take stock of some rather cool ironies.

First on the list has to be Utah’s 3rd Congressional District hypocrite, Rep. Chris Cannon. Here’s a man who opposes the storage in Utah of PFS nuclear waste produced for pragmatic purposes of power and electricity, then calls for resumption of nuclear testing similar to Cold War-era testing that claimed 15,000 American lives. Riddle me this, Chris: Is nuclear technology necessarily safer in the hands of the white man?

Then we’ve got Rep. Rob Bishop, gun enthusiast extraordinaire and anti-environmental bugaboo of Utah’s 1st Congressional District. He’s normally allergic to all things “wilderness,” but wants federal land surrounding the Goshute’s site declared as such to bar PFS from constructing its rail line for transportation of waste to the site. Environmentalism isn’t an end in itself, you see. It’s a means, a brute tool. Why else would Bishop, at this late hour, talk of proposing a similar measure this year to bookmark his failed proposal of last year?

Third prize in our “Let’s Stop Those Nuclear-Crazy Indians” sweepstakes is a little harder to discern, but we’ve got to put Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett somewhere in the mix. Supporting the storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain like good little boys, they reasoned selfishly that storing nuclear waste in Nevada is somehow a great idea, but a bad idea for Utah. Now that Yucca’s reached yet another snag thanks to allegedly falsified data, it’s not like we can go running to Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid. The man may be Mormon, but he’s also a Democrat opposed to storing at Yucca.

In all this last-minute shuffling to stop a tiny band of American natives from doing what white men have been doing for decades, a rather bizarre picture emerges. Americans hog all the energy and gas we want, then cry about the consequences. We can’t condemn nuclear technology categorically, so we’re selective in our judgments. But most entertaining is the sight of Republican lawmakers suddenly in camp with leftist environmentalists.

Nuclear waste is bad, yes. But far more disturbing environmental hazards exist, none of which Republicans seem to care about. Fact: Current coal-burning power plants are responsible for 41 percent of all mercury emitted into the air, which can later become trapped in watersheds. Everyone knows mercury causes neurological damage in children, but recent research shows it may be responsible for the upsurge in cases of autism, as well. The Bush administration could have cut mercury emissions by 28 tons with one recent proposal, but instead chose to cut emissions by 12 tons. If the Goshutes were dealing only in mercury, we might see something done.

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