Nuclear Rights Vested with the People

By Beacon Staff

Thirty plus years ago, Montanans had vision. We chose to vest nuclear power decisions with voters. I-80 passed by two-thirds vote and codifies in Montana law, “the people of Montana reserve to themselves the exclusive right to determine whether major nuclear facilities are built and operated in this state.”

It’s not a moratorium, but simply reserves the exclusive right to say “yeah” or “nay” for people rather than bureaucrats and politicians. It was a good move, given the state of today’s pay-to-play politics. Nothing, beyond the will of the people, precludes the construction of a nuclear facility in Montana.

A couple years later, in 1980, Montanans passed I-84 by slim margins that codified, “no person may dispose of large quantity radioactive material, byproduct material, or special nuclear material within the state of Montana.”

The waste-dumping margin was so slim that the Legislature sent it back to voters the next election where the dumping prohibition was reaffirmed in LR-89 by a whopping three-to-one margin. The people spoke clearly that we do not want Montana to be a nuclear wasteland.

In 2006, Congress attempted to pass legislation to dump some of the 50,000 tons of nuclear waste in places like Montana on our 30-million acres of federal lands. Luckily our top elected statesmen stood tall with the people, killed the proposal, and stated simply that, “Montana is not a dumping ground.”

In the 2007 Legislature, the House passed a bill to overturn the citizens’ nuclear dumping prohibition. The Senate killed the idea, ceding to voter will.

One of the most toxic dumps on Earth is close to Montana; just ask any down-winder. It’s also the place where the feds have been dumping billions and billions and billions of deficit-dollars in an attempt to make radioactive waste nontoxic. This is the stuff that has a half-life of 20,000 years and 10 half-lives are needed to presume safety.

The 2011 Legislature will again tamper with the power of the people, by attempting to remove the right for us to determine if there are nuclear power plants built in Montana. But again, there is no nuclear power plant prohibition. The determination right is simply exclusive to the people, rather than a handful of politicians and bureaucrats.

This January, lobbyists and politicians will tell us that smart people have made great strides in nuclear technology and how to deal with the waste. But these folks should consult with the people before proceeding with any nuclear plans for Montana. Be on the lookout for attempts by the Legislature to usurp the exclusive right of nuclear facilities determination from us, the people.

Rep. Mike Jopek is a Whitefish Democrat and retires from the state Legislature in January.

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