Former interior secretary endorses Yucca Mountain nuclear dump |

Former interior secretary endorses Yucca Mountain nuclear dump

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada lawmakers are criticizing former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s endorsement of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.

”I’ve been saying all along there are 31 states that want to cram nuclear waste down our throat,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., referring to states with nuclear power plants.

Speaking Tuesday to a group of nuclear power executives in Washington, D.C., Babbitt, the Clinton administration’s environmental champion, called Yucca Mountain a ”safe, solid geologic repository.”

Babbitt said problems facing nuclear waste disposal in Nevada stem mostly from opposition by the state’s senators.

”It just goes to show how what a tough fight this is,” Ensign aide Traci Scott said Wednesday.

Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only place under study to entomb the nation’s 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive research waste. Site suitability decisions are due late this year.

The schedule took on added urgency last week with President Bush’s call for a national nuclear waste repository as part of his federal energy plan.

Bush’s plan, developed by Vice President Dick Cheney, also called for licensing new nuclear power reactors and speeding re-licensing of existing plants.

Babbitt’s comments came during a speech to a group of nuclear industry executives hosted by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s political and policy arm.

Joe Colvin, institute president and chief executive, called Yucca Mountain a key to the renaissance in nuclear power. He predicted Tuesday that if a repository is approved, 50 nuclear power plants could be built in the next 20 years.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed Babbitt’s comments as meaningless. Reid said Babbitt isn’t in government any longer and ignores the potential dangers of transporting nuclear waste.

However, former Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat, said Babbitt has standing as a leading environmentalist now embracing nuclear power.

Babbitt, the former Democratic governor of Arizona, holds a graduate degree in geophysics and served on the commission that studied nuclear power in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident in March 1979. He is now an attorney with a Washington law firm.

Anna Aurilio, legislative director of USPIRG, an environmental- and consumer-interest group, said Babbitt ignored the consequences that nuclear waste storage would have on the surrounding environment.

Nevada officials and environmental groups contend Yucca Mountain faces potential threats from rising groundwater and geologic instability and cannot meet the government’s requirement that it safely store highly radioactive waste for 10,000 years.

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