Atomic Party

Nothing says fun like not burying nuclear waste here

Stacy Willis

The beauty of a bad idea is that it gives politicians the opportunity to publicly oppose it.

Take, for example, the notion of shipping tons of nuke waste to Yucca Mountain. There's a general agreement that we wouldn't like it passing by our houses in leaky casks, and so, why not have a protest party at which we can stump for office? Anti-nuke organization Citizen Alert hosted exactly that affair last Thursday at the Atomic Testing Museum—a beautiful wine-in-plastic-cups shindig at which a number of local politicians spoke.

Turns out gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons hates nuke waste. Gubernatorial candidate Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson hates nuke waste, too. Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt hates nuke waste with a deep, velvety voice, and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Dina Titus hates nuke waste via proxy—she sent husband Tom Wright to remind a crowd of more than a hundred potential voters that she has in fact hated nuke waste for a long time. "She's no Johnny-come-lately to this matter," Wright, a UNLV history professor, lectured.

Former Chairman of the Clark County Republican Party Brian Scroggins spelled out his reason for attendance most clearly, although he didn't have a turn at the podium. Why are you here tonight? he was asked just before a plate of stuffed mushrooms passed by (get it—mushroom clouds?). "I'm running for Secretary of State, so I just go to every event," Scroggins said, handing out his business card. "... and Yucca Mountain is a big issue."

It's also a catatonically boring issue when considered in its piecemeal political detail, but its large-scale promised horrors provide a conveniently long-lasting, constituent-uniting villain. It's so big a bad idea around here that U.S. Sen. Harry Reid also made an appearance and a quick speech Thursday. A shy, portly woman said, "You are our hero!" before shaking his hand. He smiled, posed for a snapshot, and was then swept out the door and into a black SUV. "He really is our hero in Washington, you know," she said, somewhat flushed. "It's so great to see him here."

Indeed the anti-Yucca affair went off so grandly that it echoed the days of atomic-testing parties. Where once good-timers with atomic martinis plunked down in lounge chairs to watch nuclear bombs go off on the horizon, here the party was about opposing the fun of burying waste 90 miles northwest of Vegas. Gibson reminded the crowd that a planned route for the transport of the waste would pass seven elementary schools and St. Rose Hospital; cheering in opposition ensued shortly thereafter. Gibbons, looking remarkably Guinn-ish in his stiffness, noted that he would oppose Yucca Mountain no matter what office he might hold in the future. Wink, nod. "Titus for Governor" stickers adorned several onlookers' chests. Who hates Yucca more? Cheers! Hunt was most personal and charismatic in her opposition, noting that she was heading to her granddaughter's seventh birthday party after denouncing nuclear waste.

Soon enough, the politicking gave way to genuine celebration. In the back of the room—adjacent to a guitarist, across from a host bar featuring red, white, and Corona, in front of an art exhibit featuring liberal use of the nuclear waste hazard symbols and yucca plants—was a table set for a live Miss Atomic. The model didn't show, but the show went on.

As well it should have. We've evolved from a community that sat back and watched its yard torched with above-ground tests to a state that appears to have mailed off for the Charles Atlas body-building course. Here was the head of a small nonprofit activist group, Peggy Maze Johnson, introducing the nation's Senate Minority Leader in a building dedicated to the research of history of nuclear testing. Many in the group were campaigning, yes, but there was also another vibe in the crowd—confidence, optimism, growth.

On one side of the room, mushroom cloud shot glasses were for sale, on the other, more sobering exhibits from the testing days. It was as if, plopped squarely between the absurd and the tragic, our elected leaders and our community's workhorses had come together to celebrate something more than success-so-far on Yucca Mountain, under the guise of an anti-nuke party and an opportunity to campaign: a little self-respect, maybe.

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