Appeals court says federal judge should hear lawsuit on Nevada nuclear waste repository
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A dispute over where to store 77,000 tons of radioactive waste inched forward Monday when an appeals court ruled the lawsuit should be heard by a federal judge.
The federal government sued Nevada after the state refused to issue water permits to run what is being touted as the nation’s only proposed repository for spent nuclear fuel. The facility still needs congressional approval.
The water permits are required to operate the dumpsite at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It would store radioactive waste from about 100 nuclear sites nationwide.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a federal judge to hear the government’s suit. U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt had said the suit should be heard in state court, but the appeals panel said a federal court should decide the case because the proposed dumpsite is authorized under federal law.
The appeals panel did not dictate how the dispute should be resolved.
Nevada has granted water rights to the federal government, but only for the purpose of studying whether the uninhabited desert location is suitable for a nuclear repository.
The Bush administration has said the dump is necessary because the nation may need to use more nuclear power and because existing nuclear energy and weapons facilities are running out of storage space. Nuclear power provides 20 percent of the nation’s electric capacity.
Congress chose Yucca Mountain 14 years ago for a potential nuclear dumpsite under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and no other location has been proposed or studied.
U.S. government attorney Jared Goldstein told the appeals court that Nevada is ”interfering with a congressional mandate” by refusing to issue a water permit.
Nevada has said it withheld a water permit because of potential safety threats and because Congress has only approved the location for study.
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