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Mitt Romney Tries to Neutralize Yucca Mountain Issue in Quest for Nevada

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Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is taking no chances in what is expected to be a close contest for Nevada’s six electoral votes by neither opposing nor endorsing the controversial proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, though the issue will not likely be as prominent as in the past.

“I think [Romney] has hemmed and hawed” on whether he backs the project, said Jon Ralston, the Las Vegas Sun’s political columnist. “He is certainly going to try to play that issue to a draw.”

David Damore, a political science professor at University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said Romney has been “pretty agnostic” on the project in an effort not to get pinned down. For decades, politicians seeking to curry favor with Nevada voters have tried to outdo each other in opposing sending the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

Romney’s move will likely keep what is expected to be a tight race very tight, the pundits said. Supporting the waste repository hasn’t necessarily been political death in the state, but it has made contests closers. President George W. Bush, who vocally supported the project, won Nevada in 2000 and 2004, but only by about 30,000 votes. Romney’s position on the Yucca Mountain site calls for the people of Nevada to decide whether they want the nuclear waste and to determine what they should get if they do want it, according to a spokesman for the campaign.

Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the site in 1987 in part because Nevada had no political clout, the pundits said.

The Romney spokesman pointed to the former Massachusetts governor’s comments on the issue in last October’s primary debate in Las Vegas.

“The idea that 49 states can tell Nevada, ‘We want to give you our nuclear waste,’ doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Romney said. “I think the people of Nevada ought to have the final say as to whether they want that, and my guess is that for them to say yes to something like that, someone’s going to have to offer them a pretty good deal, as opposed to having the federal government jam it down their throat.”

“And by the way, if Nevada says, ‘Look, we don’t want it,’ then let other states make bids and say, ‘Hey, look, we’ll take it,’” Romney continued. “‘Here’s a geological site that we’ve evaluated. Here’s the compensation we want for taking it. We want you electric companies around the country that are using nuclear fuel to compensate us a certain amount per kilowatt hour, a certain amount per ton of this stuff that comes.’”

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