(this is a longer version of the print column)
LAS VEGAS, NV.---Yucca Mountain is a battle cry in this state.
Congress has been wrestling for years over whether nuclear waste from other states—Illinois is one of them, with leftovers from power generating nuclear reactors—should be stored at Yucca.
Nevadans, to put it mildly, are against designating Yucca as a permanent waste repository, putting the state at odds with the Chicago-based Exelon Corporation, the nations’ largest nuclear operator, supporting a Yucca dump.
Yucca is more than a hot button issue here. Yucca is radioactive.
Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards all pledged that the Yucca site would never be developed, reinforcing those pledges at Tuesday’s debate.
Now, days before the Saturday caucus vote in Nevada, Clinton, at the debate and in a new paid radio spot running statewide, is highlighting the campaign donations Obama has taken from employees of Exelon.
.”So who will shut down Yucca Mountain once and for all? Hillary Clinton,” a narrator said. Her spot, citing a Nevada newspaper said, “And Barack Obama? The Las Vegas Review Journal said Obama was –quote “hip deep in financial ties” to one of America’s biggest Yucca Mountain promoters…nuclear giant Exelon.”
According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics of donations over $250, Obama’s presidential warchest has received $194,750 from 150 Exelon employees, with top executives of the company sending in the checks. Exelon workers, bundled together, rank sixth in Obama’s top donor groups.
Though Exelon is a national company, almost all of the Obama contributors live in the Chicago area. Much of the money came in during the first months of the Obama campaign, when his national fund-raising strategy called for him to first heavily tap his donor base in Chicago. On one hand, Exelon’s corporate corps ponied up for a home state senator, much like the rest of Chicago’s political donor community. On the other hand, the money from Exelon executives handed ammunition to Clinton.
The Obama campaign, realizing the potential damage of being seen as waffling on Yucca, organized a conference call on Thursday morning to push back. Anti-Yucca activist Bob Fulkerson, on the call, said “it is completely ludicrous and disingenuous to suggest that somehone Sen. Obama is soft on Yucca Mountain.”
At the Las Vegas debate, Obama "I think it's a testimony to my commitment and opposition to Yucca Mountain that despite the fact that my state has more nuclear power plants than any other state in the country, I've never supported Yucca Mountain."
And at a rally Thursday night at the Rancho High School here, Obama brought up Clinton taking him on over Yucca. “I have said over and over again I am against Yucca,” Obama said. “…What part of I am not for Yucca do you not understand?”