Nevada Files Challenge Against Federal Nuclear Dump License

By: Ken Ritter AP
By: Ken Ritter AP

A Bush administration bid to win Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a national nuclear waste dump
outside Las Vegas was challenged Wednesday by Nevada as too little
and six years too late.

"The Department of Energy submitted an unauthorized and legally deficient license application," state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in asking the NRC not to docket or schedule the license application for hearings.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman had declared that the application to build and operate the Yucca Mountain repository "will stand up to any challenges from anywhere."

The state's 33-page petition was filed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, M.D., Cortez Masto said.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said he could not immediately confirm the challenge had been received because of computer trouble following thunderstorms in the Washington, D.C. area.

The NRC's primary job will be to determine whether the proposed repository design will protect public health, safety and the environment for up to a million years.

Nevada's petition cites the law under which Congress set in motion a process to find a place to bury the nation's nuclear waste, and calls the license application submitted by the Energy Department on Tuesday as six years overdue and "completely unauthorized."

"The Nuclear Waste Policy Act authorizes only one application for a high-level waste disposal facility, and that one application had to be filed with the NRC by October 2002," the state petition says.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 gave the Energy Department 90 days after site selection to file a license application. Congress on July 10, 2002, overrode a veto by then-Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and approved President Bush's selection of the Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles from Las Vegas, to entomb the nation's nuclear waste.

Weeks later, a federal appeals court invalidated a key Environmental Protection Agency radiation standard, and Energy Department officials said they would need more time to prepare a license application.

"Also, the facility DOE told Congress in 2002 it would build is substantially different from the one now described," the state says. "Moreover, parts of the (license application) are considered
secret, and DOE takes the position that the NRC has no control over
who may see the secret parts."

Opponents complained that key elements, including a final design for the repository, a complete plan for shipping radioactive waste to the site from 121 sites in 39 states, and the crucial EPA radiation standard were still not part of the voluminous application. Each 17-volume set of documents stands 6½ feet tall and weighs 110 pounds, an NRC official said.

The application amounts to a design blueprint and an operating manual for the repository.

Elements of the application "are truly science fiction," Bob Loux, head of Nevada's anti-Yucca office, said at a news conference in Carson City.

Yucca Mountain spokesman Allen Benson declined comment, saying
the Energy Department had not seen the state's filing.

NRC Chairman Dale Klein has promised "an independent, rigorous and thorough examination ... based entirely on the technical merits."

Cortez Masto said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should refuse to docket the Yucca Mountain license application "until key components are available for review."

Docketing is the first step in what officials say could be a four-year review of the application to build and open the underground facility to entomb 77,000 tons of high-level spent commercial, industrial and military nuclear fuel.

An initial review by NRC officials to determine the completeness of the application is due to be completed within 120 days, followed by a 30-day period for prospective hearing participants to file challenges, or "contentions" with a three-member panel of NRC judges.

Loux vowed the state would file 500 or more individual challenges. Hundreds more challenges could come from industry lobbyists and rural counties over potential contamination of ground water, water rights and environmental issues, he said.

The 1982 law required the federal government to begin taking spent reactor fuel from commercial power plants and defense sites by 1998, and required utilities generating electricity using nuclear power to pay into a fund to finance construction.

The Nuclear Energy Institute lobbying group says the fund has now grown to about $20 billion. The government has spent more than $10 billion on the national nuclear dump project.

Yucca Mountain, at the western edge of the vast Nevada Test Site, has been the only repository site under study since 1987. But planning has been beset by delays, funding shortfalls and questions about quality assurance since 2002. Meanwhile, utilities have sued the government for missing the 1998 deadline.

If the Energy Department gets the license, project officials said it could be 2020 before the repository can open. Project Manager Edward F. "Ward" Sproat estimated the lifetime cost of the facility at up to $80 billion.
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Associated Press Writer Brendan Riley contributed to this story
from Carson City.
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On the Net:
Yucca Mountain Project: http://www.ymp.gov
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov
Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects:
http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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