WASHINGTON: A sudden flood of celebrities has joined the fight to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada's Yucca Mountain, but it may be too little too late.
Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Morgan Freeman, Barbara Streisand, and Melissa Gilbert are just some of the high-profile actors ready to enter the years-old fight, now entering what could be its final rounds. But the star power they bring is countered by the behind-the-scenes political power of their opponents: former Democratic congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro and former New Hampshire GOP governor John Sununu, both retained by the Chamber of Commerce last year to lobby in favor of the project. Proponents have the Bush administration on their side, as well.
The Senate is poised to vote on a measure, already approved by the House in February, that would clear the way for the Department of Energy to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the project. Proponents want to turn Yucca Mountain into a permanent nuclear waste storage site, scheduled to open in 2010 and hold 70,000 tons of radioactive material.
Opponents say doing so will contaminate Nevada's ground water, plus they warn of the dangers of trucking such waste through several states just to get it there.
The stars have used their fame in numerous ways. Morgan Freeman has directly lobbied members of Congress. Seventy other celebrities signed a letter of petition sent to Capitol Hill, and others have been talking to the media. The West Wing even had a storyline in a recent episode dealing with exactly the kind of disaster Yucca opponents are warning of.
But those involved say the issue is ill-suited to such tactics. "When it comes down to it, senators will listen to scientists and regulators who have been dealing with this for a long time versus somebody who is on the silver screen, said Joe Davis, spokesman for Energy Secretary Spencer Abrahan.