Apr 302002

There are lots of license plates out there.

Arizona has one with a desert landscape, some lizards, a cactus and the message, “Protect Our Environment.” Wyoming has its cowboy, some Utah plates have their arches, and colorful Colorado, of course, has its mountains. Sometimes, specialty plates are made, such as Pennsylvania with its “Flagship Niagra” plate with, you guessed it, two old school wooden sailing boats. Nevada, too, has its specialty plates. The most recent fund raising specialty plate sports a mushroom cloud, an atom and Einstein’s energy formula.

If I were to walk into a room and see fourteen rhinoceroses trying to teach calculus to a group of woodchucks, oysters and cucumbers, the sight would surprise me much less than Nevada bureaucrats. I mean, sure, having a car with a nuclear mushroom on the back does have its appeal from a “Coolness /_” fire and explosions!” point of view. But the timing stinks.

The major problem is with the Yucca Mountain Project. Last February 14, President Bush sent a Valentine to Nevada, asking, “Would you be my nuclear waste dump?” Seventy-seven thousand tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste are to be dumped 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, should attempts by many state leaders to thwart the plan fail.

The reasons for hating the project are simple. First, many scientists have come forward, saying the 20-year, $2 billion research study on the plan’s safety and efficacy neither provided guarantees of safety nor efficacy. Second, many people are sad at the idea of many, many trucks roaming Nevada transporting the waste – spills and accidents do happen, and it would suck to have to drive through highly radioactive goo on your way to the casinos.

Lastly, many people in Nevada simply wonder when enough will be enough. The reason Nevada is offering nuclear plates is because of the state’s 1952-1992 history as being the continental U.S. nuclear test state. Many state citizens throughout the years have claimed ill effects from the state’s nuclear legacy, effects which are likely true. To have the state again become a storehouse of radioactive waste is a slap in the face.

With all of these fears and complaints in mind, why in the name of Oppenheimer’s bathtub is the state issuing nuclear license plates? The official reason is that, for better or for worse, many Nevadans feel patriotic about the fact that their state helped develop weapons for the Cold War and ensure national security. The unofficial reason, of course, is that the state wants people to buy specialty license plates to increase revenues and many Generation Xers certainly would love to have a nuclear holocaust blessing their automobiles.

Does the plate look that cool? I think so; it is a really neat looking piece of automobile identification. It is obvious, though, that some Nevada bureaucrats forgot about consistency.

There is a saying that you should believe not what people say, but rather what they do. What message is Nevada sending to President Bush and the EPA? Many Nevadans “say” they are tired of their state being the nation’s wellspring of nuclear unsavory, but hey, if they can make a buck exploiting their nuclear legacy, then why the hell not?

It may seem trivial, but chances are good that these plates are severely reducing the credibility of many Nevada state legislators and their protests against the project.

Why should we in Colorado be sad about Nevada? Well, Nevada is kind of close to us, sort of. But the take-home message, really, is to keep a watchful eye on all our government officials, be they local, state or federal. Take a look at what they talk about, and see what they actually sign into law. Odds are good that these will contradict each other.

If this is so, the odds are also good we should not vote for them again.

Ken is a microbiology grad student.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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