FROM THE ARCHIVE

Yucca Mountain recommended as nuclear dump

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FRIDAY, JANUARY 11, 2002


MAP: Tribes located near Yucca Mountain site.



PDF: Sites where waste is currently stored.
Setting off a political storm whose resolution will be decided by Congress, and perhaps the courts, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham on Thursday informed Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) that he is recommending the nation's nuclear waste be stored in Guinn's state.

The Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is "important to our national security," Abraham wrote in a letter to Guinn. "We should consolidate the nuclear wastes [stored around the country] to enhance protection against terrorist attacks by moving them to one underground location that is far from population centers," he continued.

Noting that his decision was made on the "science," Abraham said he would submit the formal recommendation to President Bush in 30 days. At that time, he said he would provide a final statement on the site's suitability.

Abraham's disclosure, which was first made in a phone call to Guinn, set off a predictable response in the Silver State. "I told him that I am damn disappointed in this decision and to expect my veto," recalled Guinn of the conversation.

Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nev.), a top-ranking member of the Senate, said the recommendation was based on "bureaucratic pseudo-science." He called the project a "sham" and said he hoped Bush would "will just say no."

Elsewhere around the country, though, many breathed a sigh of relief knowing a long-delayed decision had finally be made. Mandated by federal law to receive spent fuel, the Department of Energy has spent nearly $7 billion over the last 14 years studying whether the 1,350-square-mile site can take up to 77,000 tons of nuclear waste, while the highly radioactive substance piles up at locations nationwide.

"The Secretary's recommendation is an important step toward one day removing the nuclear waste from near our reservation and lessening the nuclear threat to our community," said Audrey Kohnen, President of the Prairie Island Tribe of Minnesota, in a statement.

A nuclear facility -- one of 131 sites in 39 states that would send waste to Yucca Mountain -- is located next to the tribe's land. Kohnen said moving the spent fuel to a centralized facility "is a better solution than leaving it where it sits."

Chairman Leroy Jackson of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, located about 80 miles west of Yucca Mountain, wasn't so convinced. "They do plan on that site failing," he said, referring to the department's acknowledgment that waste would leak into the mountain.

"You only live so long around that stuff," said Jackson, who added that he was surprised by Abraham's decision. "We are opposed to it, for obvious reason."

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Bush has the ultimate authority to accept the recommendation on behalf of the executive branch. He is certain to do so, while Guinn and the Nevada Legislature plan on vetoing the decision, which they must do within 60 days, according to the law.

That would require Congress to resolve the dispute, which must occur within 90 days of receiving the Nevada veto. Opposition in strong among Democrats in the Senate, with their current one-vote majority, while support of the site is likely to clear the House.

Even then, the Nuclear Licensing Commission, an independent board, has to license the facility. A 100-year license will be sought.

In all, the site will cost $50 billion for that first century, and its target opening date is 2010. A Congressional investigation has called into doubt the timeline.

Get Relevant Documents:
Press Release | Letter to Guinn | Map of Sites Storing Waste | Additional Documents

Relevant Links:
The Yucca Mountain Project, Department of Energy - http://www.ymp.gov

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