Seven Republican legislators pulled a skunk out of a hat with a secret vote to once again explore storing nuclear waste in Wyoming. 

This must be the “Wyoming way” so many state lawmakers boast about when describing how they do the people’s work. 

The plan to store spent nuclear fuel rods at old uranium mines in the Gas Hills and Shirley Basin was hatched by Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper) and Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland), co-chairmen of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. 

The Legislative Management Council did not assign the topic to their committee or any other before the Legislature adjourned in March. There was no discussion of the topic in an open meeting, no posted notice that it was up for consideration and zero public input. Hiring the state out as a nuclear waste dump appeared in no legislative documents prior to the Management Council’s July 8 email vote to approve study of the matter.

The only reason anyone knows that we’re spending taxpayer dollars to study this hairbrained scheme is because WyoFile requested a record of all recent email votes by the Management Council.

House Speaker Steve Harshman and Senate President Drew Perkins, both Casper Republicans, didn’t talk about the proposed interim topic or announce the vote to the public. They just went along and passed it. 

House Majority Leader Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) joined five Democrats who opposed the measure.

Anderson told WyoFile reporter Angus Thuermer Jr., who broke the story about the vote, that “temporarily” storing the spent nuclear fuel rods here could bring in up to a billion dollars a year from the federal government.

Wyoming could have been making a haul off nuclear waste for decades, Anderson added, if “environmental terrorists” hadn’t stopped the so-called Monitored Retrievable Storage site in Fremont County. Then-Gov. Mike Sullivan, responding to polls that showed four-fifths of Wyomingites opposed the project, wisely halted it in 1992.

“I think they’ll be back terrorizing us again,” Anderson told Thuermer. It’s nice to know what he thinks of opponents to a project he tried to hide. 

Oh, there will be protests all right. Now that the public knows what’s been going on behind their backs, people will be able to decide for themselves who is truly concerned with trying to protect Wyoming’s priceless environment and who is trying to make billions of quick bucks putting it at risk.

Is it too much to ask for legislators to give us a break on this issue and bury it instead of highly radioactive nuclear waste? It’s long worn out its welcome.

Sullivan did the right thing when he listened to residents’ concerns about safety, including the transportation by trains or trucks of highly radioactive material across the state. He knew that the proposal was wholly contrary to the Equality State’s environmental values. 

Yet literally every time Wyoming’s economy hits the skids due to energy development woes, industry and lawmakers dust off proposals that have been soundly rejected for good reasons since the early 1990s. 

Granted, the state is facing a larger hurdle than it has in decades, trying to develop ways to make up for the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in coal severance taxes. These revenues help pay for the bulk of state government operations.

Tourism is Wyoming’s second largest industry by revenue and with King Coal on its deathbed it should be the industry we’re most focused on developing. But who wants to visit a state whose major claim to fame isn’t its scenic beauty or its wonderful, abundant wildlife but how it’s living off revenue from a nuclear waste dump? 

The fact is, nobody else wants to keep this stuff. Nuclear waste is now being stored at 121 sites, mostly at commercial nuclear power plants and military installations. They are de facto permanent repositories because there is no permanent storage facility. The officials who run these sites would be ecstatic to see their waste taken to Wyoming, or anywhere else in the world. 

Anderson said it should be no big deal to the state because the material may only be here five to 10 years before it’s shipped to a permanent location.

He’s either joking or Anderson takes all Wyoming residents for fools who can’t read or follow the news. Congress selected Yucca Mountain in Nevada as its permanent nuclear waste repository in 1982. In 2015, after years of protests by Nevada residents and environmental groups and scientists worldwide, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely stopped the Yucca Mountain licensing process.

So, once it’s in Wyoming, it’s not going anywhere. We’d clearly be stuck with it, and our brainy state lawmakers who created this mess would no doubt be trying to get more while claiming they neatly solved our budget crisis.

Anderson said he wants his panel’s six-person subcommittee to “just explore the facts.” Well, here’s one of his own to debunk: He claims Wyoming would only store spent fuel rods in casks with walls two feet thick. “There’s nothing here about storing nuclear waste,” he said.

But spent nuclear fuel rods are classified as “High-Level Waste” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As in “highly radioactive,” toxic waste. 

Anderson seems to believe nuclear waste would just be out of sight, out of mind, because he said no one even knows where the uranium mines are located. He did concede that maybe a fence could be put up around the areas. His security concerns are touching, aren’t they?

The Minerals subcommittee will probably meet once or twice with the U.S. Department of Energy, the co-chairman said, and report back to the full panel when it meets in November. A bill could be drafted, passed by the committee and sent to the full Legislature next February.

When the subcommittee drops what is sure to be a bombshell report, the public should be ready to pounce and help kill this deranged idea before it goes any further. Environmental groups, scientists and economists should lead a roar of opposition from the public, which needs to weigh in as loudly as possible.

And if the Minerals Committee approves a bill, the email boxes and voicemails of every legislator need to be jammed to help convince thoughtful lawmakers to vote no.

Opponents should be prepared to be called “environmental terrorists.” In fact they already have.

So, call me a terrorist. I don’t mind at all, if that moniker means I’m opposed to environmentally harmful projects.

This is supposed to be how we solve our economic crisis, by begging the federal government to let us take other states’ nuclear waste? It would make us the laughingstock of the nation, and deservedly so.

Whatever happened to trying to diversify Wyoming’s economy and getting us off the taxes on fossil fuels that have served as our state government gravy train since the 1970s? Are we ready to abandon efforts like the fledgling Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) and other programs?

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Instead of schemes like nuclear fuel dumps, Wyoming lawmakers should devote their time to fixing the state’s tax structure. That will take some sacrifices from middle-class taxpayers, to be sure, but the bulk of new revenues need to be raised from our wealthiest individuals and corporations, who must start paying their fair share of taxes.

The legislators who voted for the nuclear waste “study” didn’t only show poor judgment; they violated the public trust by advancing a terrible idea in the dark.

Leaders don’t hide in the shadows and cast votes by email. They do their work in public. If it earns them some lumps instead of praise, so be it. That’s part of their job. Let’s put them on notice: We’re watching now

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Thanks ONCE AGAIN to Angus and Kerry for dragging this out into the light of day.
    “Slimy behavior” by these legislators and the committee doesn’t quitted this deplorable behavior justice…Regardless of the topic.

  2. 1. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, more than 1,300 spent fuel shipments have been completed safely in the United States over the past 35 years, mostly by rail.

    2. Since the early 1970s, there have been at least 20,000 safe shipments of more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel worldwide, none of which has involved any leaks of radioactive material or personal injury.

    3. The U.S. Navy has completed nearly 850 shipments of used fuel from naval propulsion reactors, covering 1.6 million transportation miles without incident.

    4. In the United States, more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel are stored at 73 nuclear reactor sites and four DOE facilities in 35 states. Tourism has not suffered because of it.

    5. The above are Inconvenient Truths.

    6. Read “Spent Fuel Transportation Risk Assessment” published by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (https://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-transp.html)

  3. I guess I have been a terroist for open government and in opposition to nuclear storage in Wyoming since the 1970’s, so be it. These politicians need to have their feet held to the fire. It was and remains a bad idea. slinking around, out of the public view, is the only way these self serving weasels can try to get their way.

  4. Kerry Drake is correct. Spent fuel rods are indeed classified as highly toxic nuclear waste. Sen. Anderson seems to think all Wyoming has to do is to “….put a fence around it.” He has no idea whatsoever what he is talking about. Here’s some interesting information for everyone; https://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage.html

  5. Color-me-purple-for outraged re: storing spent fuel rods in ANY WAY! leave it to GOP to continue to have “Behind Locked Doors” meetings. I first heard about those when I was in high school in the 1970s.

    Who would like to design the T-shirt??!

  6. As I explore different possible locations to retire to, I am perplexed to see this sort of an action by your lawmakers and it is really scary to think of living near a nuke dump! If the economy is in poor shape, blame these same people. Only openess assures that all sides of the story are voiced and evaluated. This is not a subject to trust to elected officials who’s major concern is re-election. Good luck!

  7. Excellent observation. I hope you find the right place to put them. Please open it to outsiders who can help fill it up.

  8. Global warming is causing an increase in frequency and seriousness of wildfires and flooding events. Fracking is causing an increase in earthquake activity. Adding nuclear waste to those already serious risk factors is a really bad idea. And as an aside, if we don’t trust the feds to pay what they promised on Medicaid expansion, why would we trust them on this? We are in serious need of some rational people in our legislature.

  9. My introduction to Wyoming party politics began as a delegate to the Democrat Party State Convention 1988 in Sheridan. Then Democrat Representative Eli Bebout (Fremont) spent most of the preceding during the general meeting glowering a the rest of us after stopped then-Gov. Mike Sullivan had killed the so-called Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) site in Fremont County. I would know this was also the beginning of my life as Wyoming environmental terrorist per Senator Anderson as I opposed then and will do now. In 1988 I was a foreman and driller operating on in-situ uranium mine in Johnson and Natrona counties. During that time and in the year to come, I would receive some 100 hours of radiation safety training. I oppose the attempts by Sen. Anderson and Rep. Greear to shove an MSR site through our legislature or their subversive cloaking tactics from public oversight.

  10. Yes, the real issue is not what to do with radioactive waste that lasts thousands of years, but rather what to do with state officials who shun daylight like vampires.

    From years of filing FOIA’s and trying to shine light in dark places, I can say that top to bottom , bow to stern , Wyoming government is about as transparent as drilling mud. Everywhere you go from City Hall to that fancy $ 330 million Back to the Future retro State Capitol building. And industry lobbyists must be invisible , near as I can tell. QED

    1. Thank you WyoFile for wading into the swamp, and wrestling with the creatures. Also thank you Eric Barlow for doing the right thing.

  11. These are the same Right-Wing morons that brag about “Not wanting or needing any Big Government in Their Lives”. Yet they are willing to sell their soul and the Health of Wyoming so they can suck on this Billion Dollar Government teat..

  12. For once I can agree with you. Not so much on the issue of storing nuclear materials………although I do not approve of such a plan………..but agree that more transparency and less secrecy is important for ALL governments.

  13. This is outrageous. I’m a conservative Republican, however this is the type of Behind The Back Maneuvering the get corrupt Politicians voted out of office. We need to keep the Natural Beauty if this Great State without the fear of Nuclear Waste. Also, we need a BAN on Sanctuary Communities throughout our wonderful State, just like the one that was voted down by the same idiot politicians.

  14. Color me outraged. Many of us have long suspected this, but it is now official and can be clearly seen by all. The Republican Party is the biggest threat to the health, safety, and welfare of Wyoming and the entire planet Earth. Congratulations!

    1. I was born 63 years ago in wyoming and will probably die here. I am constantly amazed that people in wyoming vote republicans into office. When they pull things like this I am more amazed that they vote them in.
      We already said NO to waste. The fact that they were hiding it really shows us there true colors.

      Next time you vote based on the R next the name. …. Remember this incident