DOE denies request to stay Yucca Mountain guidelines
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Department of Energy has denied Nevada’s request to put off new site guidelines for Yucca Mountain, saying they are appropriate measures to judge whether the site might be developed into a nuclear waste repository.
Friday’s denial, which came in a letter from the Energy Department’s general counsel, sets the stage for a lawsuit Nevada officials expect to file in Washington on Monday seeking to halt the Yucca Mountain Project.
Gov. Kenny Guinn and state Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa issued a statement late Friday expressing their disappointment with the Energy Department’s rejection of their request for a stay of the guidelines.
“This underscores our belief that the Department of Energy is going ahead with this project regardless of the overwhelming unresolved site issues, not to mention the sentiment of the citizens of Nevada, who are against storing nuclear waste in their back yard,” Guinn said.
He noted that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham’s surprise visit to Las Vegas on Wednesday to attend the final public hearing on the Yucca Mountain Project “did nothing to change our minds.”
Del Papa, too, said she was disappointed with the decision on the site guidelines, particularly in light of transportation concerns and a recent draft report by the General Accounting Office that described the project as “a failed scientific process” that will take years to fix.
The new site suitability guidelines, which took effect Friday, will be a key element as Abraham decides this winter whether to recommend President Bush authorize nuclear waste burial in Nevada.
Guinn and Del Papa urged Abraham in a letter Monday to set aside the guidelines until they could be reviewed by a federal judge.
On Friday, Energy Department General Counsel Lee Liberman Otis responded that Abraham “does not believe a stay of the suitability regulations is warranted,” and will not postpone them.
Abraham’s decision came as little surprise to state officials.
“It was all sort of expected,” said Bob Loux, director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency.
Nevada officials on Friday continued to prepare the lawsuit. It will allege the site guidelines do not comply with the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which set standards for the burial of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.
The lawsuit, which officials said will probably be filed Monday in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, will argue the 1982 law directed the Energy Department to rely primarily on the natural geology of Yucca Mountain to contain intense radioactivity from 77,000 tons of decaying nuclear fuel for 10,000 years.
Instead, they charge, the department has constructed a plan that relies heavily on “engineered barriers,” including corrosion resistant casks and panels to shield the casks from dripping water.
State officials say the guidelines were changed to ensure Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, could be declared suitable for the pursuit of licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Otis said the guidelines were changed “because both the science and the law relevant to this project have developed significantly” since original site rules were put in place in 1984.
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