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Pahrump, Nevada
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January 23, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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January 23, 1997
 

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10 Thurlay, January 23, 1997 Pahrump Valley Gazette Editorial "If at first you don't succeed ..." By Robert/_,owes Try as hard as I may, it's impossible to keep an open and objective mind about Yucca Mountain in the heart of Nye County. The very idea of using our backyard to store the nation's unwanted nuclear trash for the next 10,000 years is beyond comprehension. Although it may take that long until someone figures out a way to use high-level radioactive wastes. But let's face it, this radioactive trash is a natural consequence of the nuclear age in which we live, and it's got to go somewhere until developing technology finds a way it can be used for a peaceful purpose. Intellectually, if not emotionally, we know that. But can the best science currently available to us reasonably guarantee the health, safety and suitability of the proposed site, located just east of us? That's what the Congress promised us when the 5,000- foot ridge about 100 miles northwest of the popular urban Las Vegas tourist destination and a few miles east of U.S. Highway 95 between the communities of Beatty and Lathrop Wells in the Amargosa Valley. Journalists by nature tend to view things somewhat skepti- cally, and for good reason. Remember when the old Atomic Energy Commission said that above ground testing of nuclear weapons was safe7 Ask anyone who lived downwind of the Test Site. And then, after the successor Department of Energy went to underground nuclear weapons tests a decade later, we were told that those detonations would eliminate dangerous radioac- tive discharges into our atmosphere, discharges that only re- cently have been made public. However, the nuclear natives from the powerful utility indus- try have grown increasingly restless with the constant delays on studies at Yucca Mountain. This, of course is compounded by the nearly unified anti-dump posture of the state of Nevada and its elected leadership. Their frustration with the many DOE delays is easily understandable, considering the current stock- piles of some 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel that is temporarily stored at their commercial reactors around the country. Approximately 85 percent of the nation's nuclear wastes are generated eastofthe Mississippi River and must consequently be shipped through the towns and cities of the nation before arriving at the proposed permanent disposal site in the Nevada desert. Spentplutonium, according to the best science available, must be isolated for the required 10,000 years, which if my calculations are correct, would bring us to the year after 12, 000. So why the big rush to start the clock ticking? What's a few centuries, more or less, among friends? Could it be that the nuclear industry, responding to its ratepayers who have now contributed about $11 billion from their utility bills to building a national nuclear waste dump are demanding to see some solid results accrue from their investment? Last year the industry won a court ruling that ordered the government to take possession of the waste by Jan.31, 1998, which isn't all that far away. But this Energy Department, which has already spent $3 billion studying the site suitability for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, says won't be ready to open the proposed dump until 2010. So in an effort to regain precious time lost in the last session of congress, nuclear waste proponents introduced a proposal to ship up to 85,000 tons of the highly radioactive stuff to Nevada earlier this week - one of the first bills of the new session. The legislation, sponsored by two adversaries, Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, neither of whom want to see the dump in either of their states, proposes to establish an interim nuclear waste storage depot in the Nevada desert until a permanent repository for the nation's deadliest trash is found. Their current proposal closely mirrors legislation that passed the Senate last year, but died when the House failed to take up a similar measure when threatened with a presidential veto. Both the Clinton administration and the Nevada congres- sional delegation have opposed the measure, arguing that it would make Nevada a de-facto dump for the nation's unwanted nuclear wastes. While these motivated maneuvers by the nuclear industry to find a home for their hazardous wastes, studies continue at the local site despite recent shake-ups in the top levels of the Energy Depatrnent from Secretary HazelO'Leary on down as Clinton's second-term team begins to take shape. But those changes aren't the only shaking going on at Yucca Mountain located on a long dormant earthquake fault that runs through the local region. The latest recorded tremors occurred in a series of earthquakes that rocked the Southwest as recently as the summer of 1992. Who's to blame and who's to bless? by Doug MoMwvlo "Mr. District Attorney, please don't use the words 'legal' or 'illegal', some rag-sheet will plaster the words all over the place." It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure which county commis- sioner made a comment similar to the lead for this article. Actually, the comment was yelled and his anger was more than audible - it was v/sual as well. Neither would it take a rocket scientist to figure which county-wide newspaper this commis- sioner was referring to. Personally, this writer holds no malice. The commissiouer in question has been much maligned and the media is an easy target these days. But i f questioning or criticiz- ing government at any level turns a newspaper into a rag-sheet - the Pahrump Valley Gazette is in very good company. For those who wonder if there exists a Code of Ethics in Journalism, the answer is yes, there is. More importantly, within that code is the belief that public enlightenment is the foreru of justice and the foundation of democracy. It is the duty of journalists, in all forms of media, to seek the truth and provide a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. The four articles of the code focus on 1) Seeking the truth and reporting it in an honest, fair, and courageous manner. 2) Minimizing harm and treating sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. 3) Acting independently and remaining free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. 4) Being accountable. Journalists are accountable to their rea:lers,tistetaers, viewers and each other ......... As readers might imagine, the discussion regarding the commissioner's aversion to the words "legal" and "illegal" was relevant to the Rachel Nicholson matter. Admittedly, this news- paper has printed some anti-Nicholson things since September " 17, 1996, The day the commissioners, in the face of all that is reasonable to man, stubbornly and without any plausible expla- nation, hired Nicholson one week to the day District Attorney Bob Beckett terminated her from his office. Admittedly, com- ments in this newspaper have been less than flattering to say the least. Consider the comments to be frustration at not being able to get a straight answer fTom officials as to why the position needed to be filled and why the $100,000 price tag accompanied it, Admittedly, on Octcr 10, 1996, this newspaper made a significant error in reporting both Nicbolson and her boss, Les Bradshaw, were subjected to disbarment in federal courts. Not only was the error heartbreaking in its unfairness, it also provided a rope for N'w.,holson and Bradshaw to grab and use as a whip to deflect their own errors which certainly harm the public at large much more than the damage done to them individually by this paper. However, the Pahrump Valley Gazette has corrected the err in excess of four separate issues. This will be the last. Incidentally, Rachel Nieholson could be Naehel Richolson for all we care. It's not Rhea! we're attacking, it's her job. She is now suing the county for $250,000. Award the settlement contingent upon her leaving Nye County. In less than three years we will be saving money. As aperson, it is this writer's belief that Nicholson is not a bad one. I hold no malice against her, I just feel the public would be better served if we didn't have to pay her salary. Back to the point: The commissioners don't want the D.A. to use the words "legal" and "illegal" in front of the press because theyql plaster it all over the place. Yes, we will. At least this paper will. In case the commissioners have forgotten how we've gotten to this point, allow yourself the opportunity to read the following brief chronology. For my information, I only had to pull out my three-inch "Nicbolson" file. It's easy to find as it's right between my oue-iuch "miscellaneous" file and my seven-inch "Offutt" file. Admittedly, the information is mostly limited to county commission actions and I have no idea what really happens out there on Tonopab's Radar Road on a day by day basis. September 11, 1996 - Nicholson is terminated by Beckett. Without cause. September 17, 1996 - Commissioners "transfer" Nicholson, despite their own resolution implementing a hiring freeze two months earlier, in the newly created position as Nye County Manager Les Bradshaw's Special Assistant. There would be no break in salary, benefits or longevity. The job, until that day unnecessary, pays $100,000 per year in salary and benefits. Question: Is it legal or illegal to break county resolutions? September 17, 1996 - Funding for the position is originally motioned to be pulled from the Nye County General Fund. This fails and Bradshaw and the above-referenced commissioner suddenly recall a veritable treasure chest in Repository grant funds. In fact, fellow commissioners and members of the media and public are led to believe that the Repository could fund Nicholson's salary through two overlapping grants until Septem- ber, 1997. The motion to fund through the repository passes 4- 0-1. Former District 3 Commissioner Jeff Taguchi abstained. September 19, 1996 - The Pahrump Vail' Gazette is published and warns the commission not to expect this issue to go away. The first meeting brought forth enough suspicion on our part to get the ball rolling. September 26, 1996 - This paper informed readers that Nicholson would be performing duties the D.A.'s office is elected by the public to do, despite assurances she would not usurp Beckett's duties or obligations. Nicholson would be drafting ordinauces and working on contracts. That sort of thing, the article revealed, is a threat to our right to elected legal representation. October 10,1996-ReadersareinformedNicbolsonis named as a defendant in the Bill Offutt sexual harassment lawsuit filed on behalf of two California attorneys. October 24, 1996 - Readers are informed Bradshaw and A 5.6 magnitude quake rumbled along a previously uniden- tiffed fault located six miles beneath Little Skull Mountain on the adjoining Nevada Test Site, about 12 miles north of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level dump. While the quake did not crack or damage the so-called "X" tunnel beneath Little Skull Mountain where non-nuclear experi- ments are scheduled, the department's files reveal the shake did more than $400,000 in damage to government buildings at the DOE's surface research facilities there. As DOE monitors recorded the effects of the quake at Yucca Mountain, researchers reported that the ground water level inside the volcanic mountain rose by about 200 feet. AS recently as .three years ago, a lesser 3,9 quake at nearby Rock Valley triggered a controversy within the scientific community over placing a burial plot for radioactive materials in an earthquake zone. Although the carefully designed canisters containing th . radioactive wastes proposed for Yucca Mountain will be en- tombed some 1,000 feet beneath the desert surface, a rupture of a nearby fault could disturb the cavernotis underground storage tunnels and perhaps even the stored waste canisters, according to scientists engaged in studying Yucca Mountain suitability. When asked about this latest development in the controversy over the dump, Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who was governor of the state at the time when Yucca Mountain was first designated for the dumpsite and who has since become one of its strongest opponents, said this latest development comes as "no surprise" to him and other anti-dump activists. "The forces behind the nuclear utilities are relentless in their determination to see the dump in Nevada," Bryan responded. He should know, he's been involved since the ill-fated effort to create Bullfrog County, a zero-population new Nevada County carved from the heart of Nye County. Bryan and fellow Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid staged a filibuster to delay passage of a similar bill last year. While the bill eventually passed the Senate before the annual recess, it passed without the necessary votes to override a promised Clinton veto. Both Bryan and Reid believe they can prevail again this year, but warn their constituents, "it won't be an easy fight." And tha might go down as being the understatement of the new year. And so it goes. McRae "misrepresented" the repository's willingness to pay 100 percent of Nicholson's salary, and in fact, Nicholson was being paid completely out of the general fund. Remember, the com- missioners voted down funding the position in this manner. The "shell game" has begun in earnest at this point. October 31, 1996 - In a banner story, readers are informed of the shocking allegations in the Offutt lawsuit and Nicholson's almost criminal negligence in helping the victims. November 28, 1996 - False documents ignite a D.A.'s investigation into Nicholson's controversial "transfer," com- plete with two photocopies of the criminally tampered docu- ments. December 5, 1996 - Another front-page story reveals the formal opinion of Beckett. This opinion is hard-hitting and expresses the criminal activity by Bradshaw, Nicholson, and the Nye County Commission carries severe penalties, in both the civil and criminal law arenas. December 12, 1996 -,The matter has reached climax and an all out misinformation campaign is launched by certain county officials and members of the local media. December 19, 1996 - In yet another front-page story, Nicholson plays her "trump card," threatening to sue the county. The revelation goes a long way explaining the commissioners, until this date, inexplicable behavior. Fearing another lawsuit, they allowed themselves to be "blackmailed" by Nicholson. December 26 , 1996- The paper makes a difficult and concerted effort to give readers a break from the bad news in recognition of Christmas. January 2, 1997 - The paper uncovers an incriminating memo to the commissioners and reports it. Nicholson writes she too suffered sexual harassment at the hands of Bill Offutt and admits she had improper contact, albeitprobably unavoidable on her part, with the Offutt plaintiffs. A direct violation of an attorney's Code of Ethics. January 9, 1997 - Another front-page story, this time Nicholson demands $250,000 from the county to "make her whole" after Beckett's termination. There is much more to this story than space will allow for. Perhaps someday rll write a book about it. In this book, I will write that Nicholson was just as much a victim as everyone else. I will write she worked hard for the county. I will write that if the county wasn't in the middle of the severe budget crisis, her transfer probably would have been ignored. Most of all, I will write that Nicholson was the most public victim of Bill Offutt. I will write that Bill Offutt and his actions came close to destroying Nye County. And then I will smugly employ the apparent philosophy of the Nye County Commission: 'Td rather beg for forgiveness than ask for advice." i, i !,