Nevada Marks the Mushroom Clouds

As Nevada officials fight against hosting the nation's nuclear repository, the state is offering license plates bearing the image of a nuclear blast.

The fund-raising license plate designed to honor Nevada's atomic past has bombed with some as ill-timed and inappropriate. Others don't have a problem with the idea of cars with optional mushroom cloud license plates sharing roads with tractor-trailers hauling radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain.

"Nevada being Nevada, this is a unique subject," said Rick Bibbero, 55, a real estate agent in Minden who won $500 with his design for the license tag. "You wouldn't find California trying to memorialize something like this, but this is our past," said Bibbero, who said he's neither for nor against the federal government's plan to entomb 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste beneath a volcanic ridge 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Kalynda Tilges of Las Vegas had a word for the new multicolor license plates that bear a mushroom cloud, a nucleus-and-atom logo for atomic energy and Albert Einstein's formula for the theory of relativity: "Abomination."

"I would have rather seen a 'Fight Yucca Mountain' license plate with proceeds to go to fighting the dump," said Tilges.

Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, acknowledged some state residents have had what he called "an emotional response" to the mushroom cloud license plate design.

But the DMV also has received 322 advance requests for the new plates, which he said are due to begin rolling off the presses this summer.

"It's a historical fact that they used to explode nuclear bombs in the desert," Jacobs said.

State lawmakers approved the idea last year, earmarking $25 of the $61 custom license plate registration fee for the Nevada Atomic Testing History Institute, a Las Vegas museum and research center expected to open next year.

"This is an important part of Nevada history and national and international history," said state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas). She sponsored the bill and recalled little opposition.

"I think Nevadans think testing was patriotic," Titus said. "It was done for the good of the country during the Cold War."

The institute is expected to store, catalog and study documents and memorabilia from the Test Site--a vast federal reservation north of Las Vegas where nuclear testing was conducted above and below ground from 1952 to 1992.

A spokesman for Gov. Kenny Guinn called the timing of the mushroom cloud license plate a coincidence.