Survey shows Nevada residents are resigned to use of Yucca Mountain

A recent survey on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project shows that voters believe the region is increasingly on the wrong track but they are resigned to the idea that the project will go ahead as planned.

Jul 14th, 2003

Concerns remain about groundwater contamination

July 14, 2003 -- A recent survey on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project shows that voters believe the region is increasingly on the wrong track but they are resigned to the idea that the project will go ahead as planned.

Voter/Consumer Research conducted a follow-up survey in Nevada to the original research fielded in April 2002.

The first survey captured opinion and sentiment before Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, allowing the Department of Energy to take the next steps toward storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. The follow-up survey shows trends following the decision.

The survey was fielded June 9, 2003 through June 15, 2003. Five hundred (500) registered voters in Nevada participated in the survey, with an additional oversample in Nye and Lincoln counties, for a total of over 680 surveys. Interviews were conducted via telephone and responses were weighted to represent the state. The margin of error for the study is ±3.8%.


Despite steady opposition/disapproval to building Yucca Mountain, voters are neither punishing their elected leaders for supporting nor are they rewarding elected leaders for opposing Yucca Mountain. The only leader to experience a major decline in favorable ratings from April 2002 is Governor Guinn who opposes Yucca Mountain.

• Thirty-two percent (32%) report Bush's decision will not affect their presidential vote in 2004.
• This support also translates to Senator Reid, who holds the upper hand in an election against Rep. Gibbons if the election were held today although his numbers are not compelling.

Interest in following the Yucca Mountain issue has declined from last year.

• Large majority of voters (88%) believe it will be built.
• Voters are more likely to show support if it can be proven scientifically safe than they were in 2002.
• Additionally, voters are more open to arguments that building can bring millions into Nevada.
• Other arguments for building are generally losing traction, with voters more or less accepting Yucca Mountain than agreeing to the rationale to build it.

Concerns remain about the health and safety risks, including groundwater contamination.

• Transportation risks have declined as a concern.

Despite concerns, Nevada voters are against spending state funds to hire private lawyers to fight building Yucca Mountain.

Since the president's approval of the DOE's recommendation, Nevada voters increasingly believe things in Nevada are headed on the "wrong track." Forty-nine percent of poll participants felt things were headed in the wrong direction in Nevada, as compared with 37 percent who felt this way in 2002.

This parallels a trend in most other states in the region. Democrats, who were more likely to oppose the measure in 2002, are more likely to believe Nevada is on the wrong track, as are residents of Nye County. Despite this pessimism, voters still give favorable ratings to their elected leaders nearly identical to last year. While ratings for all politicians dropped somewhat from 2002, the only notable drop in favorable opinion was for Governor Kenny Guinn.

Democratic Senator Harry Reid experienced a slip in favoritism of just 2 percentage points over the past year, which leads him to be voters' first choice for the Senate over Republican Jim Gibbons. However, it does appear voters responded based on party lines, with a larger percentage of Republicans unsure of their vote at this time; 12% of Republicans were unsure compared with just 7% of Democrats. The majority of those unsure at this time are under the age of 45 (both males and females).

Interest in the Yucca Mountain issue appears to have tapered off. Education and the economy are more important to voters right now, with just one quarter following stories concerning Yucca Mountain "very closely". For comparison, over half (56%) track stories regarding the war on terrorism "very closely". Those continuing to pay close attention to the stories are Democrats and residents of Nye County.

The decline in interest may be attributed to the majority of voters believing Yucca Mountain will be built. Nearly nine out of every ten respondents (88%) said they believe it will be built. Furthermore, 44% of these said disposing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is "inevitable." This figure increases to 54% in Nye County.

The fact that President Bush has authorized construction at Yucca Mountain does nothing to temper opposition/disapproval, nor does it lessen the intensity. Fifty-four percent of Nevada voters were strongly opposed to building a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain last year and 54% strongly disapprove of the president's authorization.

Overall opposition grew by 5 points, although the entire increase took place among people who do not feel strongly. Despite this, nearly one-third (32%) said Bush's decision will not affect their vote in the 2004 election.

An interesting shift has occurred regarding the scientifically safe message. In 2003, 40% of Nevada voters said they would support continuing development if it is deemed "scientifically safe". This is an increase from 2002, when 33% of voters expressed continuing development if it was proven safe, indicating this is a convincing argument. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of those disapproving of the government authorization change their support if Yucca Mountain is proven to be safe.

Likewise, voters appear to be more receptive to the argument that building on Yucca Mountain can bring millions of dollars in special annual payments. Likelihood to support the project after hearing of the payments increased to 49% from 44% in 2002. Even more, Nevadans want their leaders to begin negotiating the type and amount of payments now, as stated by three-fourths of voters (76%).

The difference in the figures may reflect the sense that Yucca Mountain is inevitable. The highest priorities for use of the additional funds are funding for: education, state health care programs, and road construction.

Other arguments concerning the benefits Yucca Mountain can bring to the state are losing traction. While boosting education funding remains the most popular, a much larger percentage of respondents (22%) believe none of the following arguments are important:
• Boost education funding
• Deal with nuclear waste problem
• Boost the economy
• Create new jobs
• Reduce taxes
• Generate millions in revenue

Concerns about Yucca Mountain did not change a great deal. Also, as the poll found last year, the public is not focused on a single concern, but mentions a variety of concerns, health and safety prominent among them, followed by concern about groundwater contamination. The only significant change is that the concern about transportation risk appears to have subsided somewhat. (see the table below) The most acceptable route for shipping spent nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain is by either rail or truck through rural areas.

Voters do not approve of the state spending government funds to hire private lawyers to fight Yucca Mountain although by a smaller margin then might have been expected (52% against versus 48% support). When these expenditures are lined up with education cuts, respondents are against spending money to fight Yucca Mountain by a wider margin (61% against and 32% support).

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