With Record Unemployment, Is Now the Time to Kill Yucca?

Nicolas Loris /

Relying heavily on the slots and roulette tables to bring in revenue, it’s no surprise this recession hit Nevada’s economy especially hard:

The Silver State’s unemployment rose to 12.5 percent in July, while joblessness in especially hard-hit Las Vegas surged to 13.1 percent. It’s the highest jobless rate both statewide and locally since the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation began tracking data in 1976.

Bill Anderson, chief economist with the employment department, said Nevada remains mired in the longest, deepest recession since World War II, and recent labor-market trends don’t hint at any improvement. Joblessness in Nevada jumped 1.9 percentage points from April to June, the biggest three-month spike on record. Nevada shed nearly 28,000 jobs in the three-month period, including 15,000 jobs from June to July alone.”

One way for Nevada to make up some ground would be to reengage the nuclear industry. Yucca Mountain, the most studied geologic nuclear materials repository in the world, would generate over 2700 jobs during peak operations. It is not just those jobs that are at stake. According to a report done by the Department of Energy, stopping Yucca will kill 4700 jobs in the region influenced by the project. Unfortunately, this is precisely what Congress and the Obama Administration is about to do. Darren Goode of CongressDaily reports,

“House and Senate Democrats are well on their way to helping the Obama administration kill Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Both chambers have approved FY10 Energy and Water Appropriations bills that match the administration’s $197 million request to let the Energy Department officially keep the project open on paper for a year while funding Energy Secretary Chu’s blue ribbon panel to develop an alternative plan for storing and managing nuclear waste.”

But Yucca Mountain is just the beginning of the story when it comes to opportunity lost for Nevada. The state potentially holds significant leverage because of Yucca Mountain. Instead of rejecting the spent fuel repository, Nevada could have set itself up as the nuclear technology capital of the U.S. at a time when countries across the globe are looking to nuclear technology to meet their energy and environmental goals. Such a strategy could result in thousands of high paying, highly skilled jobs at the exact time that Nevada could use them.

While no one can predict exactly what sorts of facilities would be built, there are plenty of examples to go by. For example, where better to build a nuclear fuel recycling facility then next to a spent fuel repository? Building a recycling plant, according to some estimates, would create 5000 jobs. As the U.S. builds more plants, it is certainly going to need more fuel, so how about an enrichment facility? One such plant in New Mexico will employ some 321 workers.

And with these new opportunities, the residents of Nevada will need plenty of clean, affordable power, so how about some nuclear power plants? At over a 1000 workers per plant, depending on the number of reactors, we are talking real, long-term jobs. Furthermore, there are research and development facilities that could be built to support innovation in the nuclear industry.

Nevada could be the nuclear capital of the world – if its politicians allow it so.