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Nevada was in the national spotlight Tuesday, and it was glowing ... with radioactivity.

The GOP’s first “Western” presidential debate pretty much stuck to national issues — with the exception of a question on Yucca Mountain.

Nevada has been known for lots of things: organized crime and its gambling and prostitution; more recently the distinction of having the highest unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates in the nation.

So, when we got our big shot under the national spotlight, what outstanding aspect of Nevada was held up as a topic worthy of conversation among our leading presidential candidates? A defunct, quarter-century-old, multibillion dollar boondoggle.

The federal government began planning to ship nuclear waste to Nevada in 1983, reasoning that it would be safer to have it all stored in a single location than at individual nuclear power plants scattered across the nation. About $100 billion has been spent studying the site, drilling into the mountain and constructing storage facilities, all the while as opposition grew in the Las Vegas area out of concern that a mountain full of radiation would scare away tourists.

The project was cancelled after President Obama took office and Congress pulled its funding. Not surprisingly, none of the Republican presidential candidates debating in Las Vegas said they wanted to resurrect it.

It’s dead.

Or, is it more like the Living Dead?

Last week the Government Accountability Office released a report detailing alternative uses for the Yucca Mountain facility.

“Dumping nuclear waste at Yucca is no longer a reality,” Sen. Harry Reid said in response to the report. “I have worked for 25 years to successfully stop this project, and it is time to finally find a realistic strategy for managing nuclear waste in a safe and secure manner.”

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Perhaps the solution will come in another quarter-century, providing we aren’t first hit by a tsunami like Japan was, and everything spills into the ocean.

The GAO report lists 30 proposals for alternative uses of Yucca Mountain. None of them call for storing old flying saucers or dead aliens from Area 51. Several involve nuclear-related uses, which aren’t likely to get any more support from Nevadans than the original plan.

We’ve already heard about turning it into a secure document storage facility. Other ideas include research and training facilities for this and that.

Then there is the hydroelectric option, which must have been submitted by Sisyphus: “The site could be used for pumped hydroelectric energy storage. Water would be pumped from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir when there is surplus electricity; the water would then be released back through a turbine to generate electricity when demand increases.”

Or there is this Pentagon option, which might make a fun tourist attraction: “The site could be used for testing and training of the Active Denial System, a nonlethal, directed-energy weapon. The weapon may be used as a crowd-control device, which works by beaming microwave radiation, causing intense pain — but no damage — to people.”

The report didn’t say whether the weapon has any effect on zombies.

All of these concepts have their drawbacks, so how about using the Yucca Mountain facility for something that would really benefit Southern Nevadans?

A homeless shelter. 

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Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown. 

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