State Again Denies Water Rights For Nuke Dump

Yucca Mountain
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Nevada is again denying water rights to Yucca Mountain, the site the federal government plans for a national nuclear waste dump.

"The building of a nuclear waste repository is not a beneficial use," state Engineer Hugh Ricci said Thursday of his decision to deny permanent groundwater rights to the Energy Department.

Ricci's ruling, dated Nov. 7, has no immediate effect because a court order currently allows enough water for maintenance and scientific activities at the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Ricci cited "overwhelming opposition in Nevada" to the Energy Department plan and called the Yucca Mountain repository "detrimental to the public interest."

The federal government can challenge Ricci's ruling, although Energy Department spokesman Allen Benson said Thursday in Las Vegas that no decision had been made.

"It's under review," Benson said.

The state and federal government have been battling since Ricci's predecessor denied water rights to the site in 2000 citing "public interest."

A federal judge in Las Vegas got lawyers for the state and federal governments to agree in December to allow pumping a limited amount of water from underground aquifers to refill storage tanks and serve restrooms and emergencies at Yucca Mountain.

That interim agreement does not provide enough water to build, open and operate the repository.

Water is just one issue unresolved since Congress and the Bush administration picked Yucca Mountain in July 2002 as the place to entomb the nation's commercial, industrial and military nuclear waste.

Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency chief Bob Loux noted Thursday that under the federal judge's order, Ricci's decision can't be challenged until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decides other lawsuits the state has filed against the Yucca Mountain project.

The state is challenging site selection standards, Environmental Protection Agency radioactivity standards and Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules for licensing the dump.

One case also challenges the constitutionality of forcing one state to accept the burden of other states' radioactive waste.

Oral arguments in those cases are scheduled for January.

The Energy Department plans by the end of 2004 to submit an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to open the repository in 2010.