During the course of research for an upcoming novel, Operation Scorpion, J decided to take a drive out to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Depository. You know, the one located in southern Nevada which has supposedly had over ten billion American tax dollars spent constructing the facility, only to have it defunded and 'abandoned' in 2010.The remote location in the Amargosa Desert is home to the Nellis Air Force Range, and, coincidentally, also the location of the ever-fascinating Area 51. Yes, the same Area 51 around which stories swirl regarding little green men being dissected after crash-landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.
Can it get any better than this?
J had written to the Nuclear Waste Department in Eureka County, Nevada, requesting a tour of the facility which had been under planning and construction for decades. It is a fascinating engineering project, designed to provide a space for the safe disposal of all nuclear wastes produced in the United States for thousands of years (please refer to the sites listed at the end of this blog for confirmation and further detail).
Our traveling companion during this adventure was the frequent fellow-explorer, Paul Bakas, good friend and photographer.
There had been no response from the Waste Department, so the adventure was afoot as we try to find our own way in, as did some of the characters in Operation Scorpion (due for release in 2015).
A quick three and a half hour drive north to Baker, then northwest to the town of Amargosa Valley at the junction of Highways 373 and 95, and we thought we'd be near the entrance, if not the footprint of the nuclear site.
We were wrong.
We stopped and asked for directions at three different establishments, including the Chamber of Commerce, but no one could give us directions to the facility. Rather strange, we thought, considering the scope of such a repository for nuclear waste, including a purported five mile long tunnel built into the Yucca Mountains before being defunded.
Hard to hide such a thing. Or was it?
Off to the hinterlands, four-wheeling in the trusty Toyota FJ for hours upon hours of searching, but to no avail.There were plenty of hard-packed dirt roads, large enough for construction vehicles, and a few signs for YMP (Yucca Mountain Project) personnel, but no discernible entrance to the increasingly mysterious facility.
Dusk was smothering the mountains as we decided to call it a day. We were dirty, tired, frustrated, and hungry. So we drove back to Beatty where we had decided to set up camp for the evening.
This is when it really got strange.
Sitting down to a nice dinner at the Sourdough Saloon with a cold beer, J's cell phone pinged and up popped an email from the Nuclear Waste Advisor (who shall remain anonymous) stating that there were no tours of the area because the program was shut down. The site had not been licensed to receive nuclear waste and all there was to see was an exploratory tunnel, but nowhere to store material.
I shared the email with my fellow explorer, Paul, and his eyebrows curled a bit upwards. "Rather odd to receive such an email right after we spent the entire day driving around the back end of the thing, wouldn't you say? Almost as though someone knew we had been there snooping around."
"Since I sent the first email weeks ago asking for a tour and explaining my reasons. Yes, I would agree with you."
Paul nodded. Not really much of one to dwell on conspiracies, his reply was to change the subject. "And I agree this food is tasty and the beer cold."
Couldn't argue with that logic, but there was certainly a growing sense of confusion and yes, perhaps a little paranoia floating around in my cranium.
That confusion turned to something more quizzical as we left Beatty the following morning and headed into the very small town of Death Valley Junction for breakfast. We discussed our empty-handed mission of the previous day with a friendly waitress, who shall also remain nameless -- the reader will understand why. I mentioned our search and the contents of the email I received from the waste department.
"That's funny," the waitress observed. "My husband worked there and we have drivers coming through who say they already are delivering low level radioactive material out there. They have armed guards surrounding the entry gates to Mercury. Strange message to write saying it's not open when we all know it is."
And this is how governmental conspiracies begin!