RENO, Nev. — Backers who want to jump-start a proposed nuclear-waste dump site in Nevada and expand it as a broader energy park project criticized the Obama administration Thursday for paying lip service to the nuclear industry while ignoring the need for radioactive waste storage.
The 75 protesters outside President Barack Obama's town hall meeting in Reno included more than a dozen members of a non-partisan group promoting the Yucca Mountain facility. They waved signs that read, "Open Yucca Nevada Energy Park."
"We wanted to let him know there are Nevadans who are in favor of utilizing the Yucca Mountain facility for good purposes," said Randy York, a member of Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy. "Many people say out of one side of their mouth they are in favor of nuclear energy, but you never are going to see it ramp up until we solve the storage problem."
The Obama administration has stopped plans to bury the nation's nuclear waste in the Nevada site, which is about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Several states, including South Carolina and Washington, are suing to try to restart plans to ship their radioactive spent-nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain.
Nevada's congressional delegation has fought against the project for years, and polls have shown most Nevadans share their opposition to the long-term repository.
The pro-Yucca protesters say the site, if turned into the energy park, could generate $4 billion in potential revenue that could be shared with residents in dividends, similar to the way Alaska shares its oil pipeline money. Nevadans 4 Carbon Free Energy wants the proposed energy park to include a recycling and research center, reprocessing of the fuels and generation of new power, as well as the spent-fuels storage site.
York said he is supportive of Obama's push to develop "green" renewable energy, but that the president's vision was "only one part of the puzzle. It might be a long-term solution, but it is not going to make a difference the next 10 years."
He said that while the administration has indicated its support for the nuclear industry, it has prevented new production with regulatory red tape similar to the way it addresses new oil drilling.
The pro-Yucca protesters were among those outside Obama's town hall who criticized his economic and foreign policies, energy plans and the federal health care overhaul. Some held signs that read, "Drill here, drill now, pay less," and "Green energy a big fraud just like stimulus bill."
Others included the jobless in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
Corey Lequieu, 41, of Fallon, said he'd been unemployed for two years. He was an Army veteran who worked in restaurant management and nursing, but said now he can only find part-time jobs.
Katie Fortuna, president of the University of Nevada College Republicans, said Obama promised to create jobs when he visited her Reno campus during his campaign four years ago.
"We're offended that President Obama would come back to the state with the highest unemployment in the country to campaign. He doesn't care about our jobs; he cares about his job," she said.
Georgia Navarro, of Reno, said she doesn't like Obama's policies or his decision to close the town hall to the public. About 400 invited guests were allowed inside. "Why are we paying for all the fuel for Air Force One to go fly around to Reno and San Francisco and Los Angeles, and he's not paying for it out of his campaign?" Navarro said.
Earl Ammerman IV, a college student and member of the Nevada Green Party who turned out to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shared her criticism of the private meeting.
"It's not right to call it a town hall meeting if the general public is not allowed to show up," he said. "We need to get the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to build solar panels instead of weapons of mass destruction."