Tom Kacich: Shimkus off to lead 'nuclear dump' tour

Tom Kacich: Shimkus off to lead 'nuclear dump' tour

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus is taking a trip to Las Vegas this week, but his ultimate destination is nothing nearly as fun.

Shimkus, the Collinsville Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on environment and the economy, is leading a tour Thursday with congressmen, congressional staff and others to the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Actually, Yucca Mountain is supposed to be the nation's repository of nuclear waste, the stuff left over from the production of nuclear power. Although the remote site was designated by Congress in 1987 to take high-level waste, such as that from the Clinton nuclear plant 40 miles west of Champaign, it's never happened.

Harry Reid, the longtime Democratic senator from Nevada and until recently the majority leader of the Senate, has single-handedly blocked use of the repository. But Republicans have gained control of the Senate, Reid has announced he won't run for re-election next year and there's new hope for Yucca Mountain, and the nuclear power industry.

"A study finally came out last year. It said that Yucca Mountain, once closed, will be safe for a million years," Shimkus said this week. "That really changed the dynamics, because for years, you had these people saying that we have to let science determine this. And now our smartest people have said it's safe.

"And now you have Harry Reid saying he's retiring. He keeps saying that he's built up the barriers and (Yucca Mountain) will never be reopened, or it will never move forward. But what's happening now in Nevada is that there's a discussion occurring by some elected officials — not a lot of them, because they're afraid, most people who want to run statewide are still anti (Yucca Mountain) — but there are a few people at least talking about it."

Shimkus is a longtime advocate of the repository — on which the feds already have spent an estimated $15 billion — and he sees opportunities ahead.

"There's an internal debate going on in the state of Nevada, and that's promising," he said. "What we need in the next two-year (budget) cycle is ... can we pass an energy and water spending bill that has a few dollars for Yucca? Then we can say, 'Here's the spending bill, Mister President. This is within our budgetary limits. Here are some things we like. Here are some things you like. Are you going to veto it over $25 million for Yucca Mountain?'"

He said U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk need to back the Yucca Mountain site, particularly since Illinois has more spent nuclear waste than any other state.

"We've had plenty of votes for this in the House," Shimkus said. "The difference is that in six years, there's never been a vote in the Senate over Yucca Mountain. Not a vote. There have been some senators who got elected and left and never cast a vote on that.

"It's still a long process. We'll have a vote in the House side. The question is, can you get six Democrats in the Senate?"

Eventually, he said, the political numbers will favor Yucca Mountain.

"It's like 34 states that have nuclear power plants with spent fuel on-site. Then you add states with major Defense Department nuclear sites. There are five of those," Shimkus said. "You add those up, and that's by far the majority of representatives in both the House and the Senate. So if they really want to be helpful to their states ... That's how you've got to portray this.

"I understand Nevada's concerns, but we're trying to convince Nevada that they can be very helpful to the whole country. Some try to portray this like we're going to haul this stuff right down the Strip. C'mon. Help us build roadways and a rail line. We'll keep it out of the way out of metropolitan areas and little villages, and you'll get the jobs and the growth. Talk to us so we can move forward on this. They will be performing a great service to the country by doing this. We're trying to be respectful of them."

Shimkus said the Yucca Mountain site, which he last visited about four years ago, is remote and barren.

"You have to see it to really understand that it's far away from Las Vegas. I understand NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). You want to build right next to Memorial Stadium? That's NIMBY. That makes sense. But this is like 100 miles away, and not just 100 miles away, but it's in a protected area. You have to go in a protected gate, and then you have to drive another 10 miles.

"And what do you have there? You have a nuclear test site where they blew off atomic bombs. So it's not like pristine, unadulterated land. And to the north is the test range where they blow up missiles and shoot off things. It's one of these things that makes you say that if you can't put it under a mountain in the desert, you can't put it anywhere."

Ted Cruz in Monticello

The first presidential campaign event of the 2016 campaign in central Illinois will occur later this month when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the first announced presidential contender — comes to Monticello.

The Texas Republican will be at a $1,000-a-plate dinner on Tuesday, April 21, at the home of Drs. Barbara and James Kammer in Monticello.

"I don't know him," said Barbara Kammer. "This has grown out of some interest on the part of one of my children. Anyway, it's grown into quite an adventure."

With good weather, she said, the reception could include as many as 60 guests.

"It's exciting," she said, "because we don't have this caliber of political candidate in our area very often."

Being included on the host committee would cost a donation of $25,000. Attending the VIP reception before the dinner goes for $2,700 per person.

For more information, call Marissa Akers at the Cruz for President headquarters in Houston at 713-353-4331.

Williamson closes committee

Kristin Williamson, the Urbana Republican who lost to state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, in the 103rd House District race last November, has closed out her campaign committee.

"Having the opportunity to run for the House was a gift in many ways, and I will forever be grateful for the support that I received from so many people in Champaign-Urbana," she said. "I have no plans to run for public office in the future."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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