Local community split on Yucca Mountain site

Published March 1, 2002

Congressional Democrats and Nevada politicians of both parties have generally opposed the selection of Yucca Mountain for the permanent storage of America’s spent nuclear fuel. However, citizens of Armagosa, the closest town to the Yucca Mountain facility, are split in their opinion of the proposal.

“That ground’s contaminated anyway,” said Virgil Bendix, 73-year-old retired firefighter and Korean War veteran. Bendix noted that for 40 years, Armagosa residents would watch mushroom clouds erupt over the horizon during nuclear weapons tests. Bendix found it difficult to believe that the nuclear waste storage facility, with all its protections, would materially worsen an area that had been subjected to open-air nuclear radiation for four decades.

Armagosa residents are “red, white, and blue out here,” said Bendix. He expressed no opposition to the facility “as long as it doesn’t screw up the water.”

“People are so blasé,” added Doris Jackson, a local saloonkeeper and the town advisory board chairperson. “They’ve lived next to the test site all these years.”

Although Jackson opposes the facility, she concedes that “Most people are for it. They say we need the money. They need the work.”

In light of the region’s nuclear past and the extraordinary protections designed for the proposed storage facility, most facility opponents object to the facility for tangential reasons.

“What I’m worried about is nuclear traffic,” said VFW post bartender Anne Davidson, referring to the 70-mph highway that leads to the facility. “We’ve got senior citizens who don’t drive more than 40 miles per hour. Trucks already come down that road. It’ll only increase.”

Ed Goedhart, a town advisory board member, opposes the site because of the effect it might have on the image of his organic dairy and alfalfa farm.

“My issue isn’t so much the water,” said Mr. Goedhart, “it’s the perception. Would you want to buy products from the Armagosa Valley?”