Wasting Edwards
Likely Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s selection of John Edwards has complicated life for Nevada Democrats.

Edwards voted as a U.S. senator to build the nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain, and earlier this year former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada said that, if Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate, it would not be helpful to Democrats in the state, who he said would have to do “some dancing in Nevada.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid last week said that Edwards has promised to align his own position with Kerry’s opposition to Yucca. Reid told KUNR’s Carol Cizauskas that Kerry told him, “But understand, he’s taken the Yucca pledge.” Reid added, “He’s going to be with John Kerry a hundred percent on Yucca Mountain. … Later in the day, I talked to John Edwards. He said the same thing.”

But while Edwards may have told Reid that, he has not put it on the record. He has not, for instance, told it to either the people of Nevada or of his home state of North Carolina.

North Carolina wants 2,248 metric tons of irradiated fuel from its nuclear-power plants buried at Yucca Mountain. Carolina newspapers have carried no reports of an Edwards switch on the Yucca Mountain issue, and Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill says he reviewed Edwards’ recent news releases without finding any Yucca statements. The New York Times last week noted the difference of opinion between Kerry and Edwards over Yucca without reporting any change of mind.

Moreover, while vice presidents traditionally toe a presidential line on policy, that can change if the vice president becomes president. Nevada once won a federal reclamation project when President McKinley was assassinated and his successor Theodore Roosevelt reversed the White House position on reclamation. If Edwards succeeded to the presidency through resignation or tragedy, he would no longer be bound to follow the Kerry policy and could revert to his own original position on the dump.

In his home state, Edwards has been the target of harsh criticism on the Yucca issue without ever changing his position. On June 27, 2002, his Raleigh office was picketed by anti-dump activists, and in November that year, North Carolina Waste Awareness in Durham said that by voting for Yucca, he is “playing politics with the potential for nuclear terrorism.”

One of the centerpieces of Edwards’ legislative record is a measure he cosponsored to provide for procedures to transport waste to Nevada. It sought to require waste convoys to be able to communicate with emergency crews at all times and be escorted by armed guards. It would require that governors be given advance notice of shipments and have authority to prescribe conditions for the shipments. The bill also provided $6 million to improve transportion routes and train state and local emergency workers to respond to accidents.

Edwards introduced the measure to try to satisfy criticisms of transportation dangers in the dump project. Edwards’ statement when he introduced the bill said, “Yucca Mountain will offer a safe, central repository for the estimated 77,000 tons of nuclear material expected to be shipped to Nevada during the two decades after the national disposal site opens.”

North Carolina Waste Awareness called the bill “window dressing” to placate critics of his support for sending waste to Nevada.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...