Nevada gives up challenge; Yucca Mountain hearing set Wednesday |

Nevada gives up challenge; Yucca Mountain hearing set Wednesday


LAS VEGAS (AP) – An extra digit on an official public notice won’t stop a key Energy Department public hearing Wednesday on a plan to bury the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in the Nevada desert.

Elected officials fired verbal darts Tuesday at Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and his department, but gave up trying to block the first of three hearings on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. State officials had threatened to sue.

Instead, lawmakers, business interests and environmentalists said they will protest plans for the nuclear repository at Wednesday’s hearing.

”This doesn’t even have the appearance of neutrality,” U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., complained Tuesday after the Energy Department announced it would press forward.

”The books have been cooked,” Reid said. ”This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Nevada lawmakers and Gov. Kenny Guinn had asked Abraham to postpone the meeting for 90 days to let the public learn more about the project and offer comment. They complained that after $7 billion and 19 years of study, the critical hearing was scheduled last month on short notice and then moved when the first site became unavailable.

”You have them preparing for a hearing for almost 20 years, but they can’t get a place to hold it,” Reid said from Washington, D.C. ”Then, they publish the wrong address.”

Allen Benson, an Energy Department spokesman in Las Vegas, said Abraham won’t attend the hearing at the Energy Department office in North Las Vegas. It was switched there last week after the Suncoast hotel-casino backed out, saying it didn’t have the capacity for a long and contentious hearing.

Benson said a typographical error – adding a digit to the hearing site address published Friday in the Federal Register in Washington, D.C. – made no difference.

”The citizens of Nevada were notified through notices and the media,” Benson said, referring to legal notices, newspaper, radio and television news reports. ”The notification was done correctly in Nevada.”

Benson responded to criticism that the building is too remote – in an industrial area well away from downtown Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Strip – and too cramped. It has 250 seats in a main meeting room and 150 seats in a cafeteria that officials plan to equip with closed-circuit television.

”No one is going to be shut out,” the Energy Department spokesman said. ”No one is going to be discouraged from attending.”

Reid spokesman Nathan Naylor said Reid and the other three members of Nevada’s congressional delegation planned to take part in the hearing by teleconference from Washington.

Guinn, planning Tuesday to fly to Las Vegas to testify, issued a statement urging heavy participation in what he called ”a crucial opportunity to let the Department of Energy know … that we as Nevadans remain opposed to the shipment of high-level nuclear waste to our state.”

Wednesday’s meeting is the first of three. Others are scheduled Sept. 12 in the Amargosa Valley, the Nye County community nearest the site, and Sept. 13 in Pahrump, a larger community between the site and the California state line near Death Valley National Park.

Complaints from Reid and other officials prompted the DOE to promise to teleconference the hearings to three other Nevada cities – Reno, Elko and Carson City. An Internet webcast also is planned beginning at 6 p.m.

Benson said people who don’t attend the hearing will have until Sept. 20 to submit comments by mail, fax and e-mail.

Abraham is expected to review those comments, the hearing transcript and a final site environmental report before recommending to President Bush by the end of this year whether to go forward.

If Nevada protests, as expected, approval for the Yucca Mountain plan would be left to Congress.

The state Legislature has put up $1 million for an anti-dump public relations campaign. Clark County Commissioner Myrna Williams said Tuesday that the board will vote in two weeks whether to put $1 million of the county’s $750 million annual budget toward that effort.

Opponents say they intend to highlight the dangers of transporting nuclear waste by truck and train through 43 states to Nevada.

The Energy Department said last month that the volcanic ridge at the edge of the Nevada Test Site, some 90 miles from Las Vegas, would meet Environmental Protection Agency radiation exposure standards of 4 millirem per year. Overall radiation from all sources from the site would be capped at 15 millirem. A standard chest X-ray emits 10 millirem or less.

Yucca Mountain is the only site under study for the nuclear dump, which is projected to cost $58 billion to complete. It would begin accepting waste no earlier than 2010 and remain open for three decades.

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