- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

BEATTY, Nev. It was one of the liveliest little drinking joints in this tiny hamlet until the gold miners left four years ago. Now the Beatty Club is hoping for revival in one of the country's most contentious energy conflicts: Yucca Mountain.
"If they can get that project approved and going, things will turn around," said Alpheus C. Bruton II, proprietor of the Beatty Club in this town of 1,200. "I see very little opposition in these rural counties, but that's not where the votes are, so nobody asks us."
Inside, bartender Billy found irony in the fact that while elected leaders from Nevada on the national scene object with great fanfare to the use of Yucca Mountain 13 miles outside of town, as the crow flies as a storage site for nuclear waste, "nobody asks the business owners here how it would help out. This is our backyard, after all."
And across the street, under the town's lone stoplight, at the Exchange Club, Johnny Quick looks around the restaurant and ponders: "Where is everybody? We haven't had much business at all for some time, so I don't think Yucca Mountain could hurt us."
Even some of the town leaders are ready for the economic kick it would almost certainly give this ailing but beautiful desert town 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The Nevada desert is a region that was weaned on nuclear testing in and around nearby Nellis Air Force Base, the until recently secretive Area 51 and the designated federal nuclear testing range. Some locals even recall when tourists used to gather at the top of the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas to watch the nuclear testing detonations.
So it is no surprise when people here call the proposed 70,000 tons of nuclear waste a prospective gold mine which is what it could replace.
Beatty was gutted at the end of 1998, when the Barrick Bullfrog gold mine left town and took nearly 600 people employees and family with it.
"I think everybody here wants [the repository]," added Laurence Gray, who chairs the Beatty Town Advisory Board. "All most people hear is about how the state opposes this project, but it's in our own backyard, 13 miles away. And we have no problem with it.
"All that most people hear are the politicians."
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn and a coalition of environmental groups, as well as many other Democrats and Republicans, have condemned President Bush's approval of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository. They first attacked the site as unsafe; next, they moved on to saying railroad transport of the waste was dangerous.
Mr. Reid, the state's senior senator, cites fault lines and underground water pools as factors that make the site unsafe. He says the waste, already stored in 131 sites in 39 states around the country, should remain there.
The critics attribute the project's success so far to a lobbying push from the nuclear power industry, which has donated millions to federal office candidates in the last couple of years.
Several lawsuits to prevent the project from happening will likely postpone the proceedings even if it receives congressional approval, which is expected this month.
Mr. Reid has fought the project the hardest. His Web site praises his modest triumphs. A spokeswoman said Yucca Mountain would bring only a small number of jobs to the region, 200 at most.
"For 20 years, the Energy Department has been conducting studies out there, and has that helped their little communities?" Tessa Hafen said. "The senator is really concerned with keeping Nevadans safe."
Mr. Guinn leads a lawsuit against the Department of Energy, claiming it has failed to complete promised inspections of Yucca Mountain.
"We are demanding that the Department of Energy do its job," said Greg Bortolin, a spokesman for the governor. "I think that the overwhelming majority of people in our state is in favor of the action of the governor and congressional delegation. And I also know that the people in Nye County deserve to be heard and considered as well."
The fight against Yucca Mountain will go on, Mr. Bortolin promised.
Beatty and other towns in Nye County rely on the transient mining industry for a tax base. When those leave, these villages turn into ghost towns.
The town's hope is now with the much-maligned Yucca project, which locals say is inevitable.
"It could become Love Canal or a boom town, it's hard to say," Mr. Gray said.


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