Environmental Council Asked To Intervene in Yucca Rail Plan

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Nevada has registered a new complaint about the Yucca Mountain project, claiming the Energy Department has gotten ahead of itself planning a 319-mile rail line to the site where it wants to bury the nation's nuclear waste.

State Attorney General Brian Sandoval sent a letter Thursday asking James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality, to issue "corrective instructions" to the Energy Department.

Sandoval said another federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board, has primary jurisdiction over rail projects.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis in Washington said project planners have yet to decide how a Yucca rail line would be used.

The letter was part of an ongoing state campaign to challenge the Energy Department's plan to entomb the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.

The Energy Department plans by the end of the year to submit a license application to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to open the repository in 2010.

A spokeswoman at the White House council confirmed getting Sandoval's letter, but called it too early to discuss possible options.

The council coordinates how agencies administer the National Environmental Policy Act, the major law that guides most government actions that impact the environment.

State officials said the White House council would have a range of options, including putting the Surface Transportation Board in charge of the rail project or ordering the Energy Department to work out a formal relationship with the transportation agency.

Testifying in March before a House subcommittee in Las Vegas, board chairman Roger Nober said the agency would get involved in a repository railroad if Energy Department chooses to let it be used for shipments other than nuclear waste.

The department announced April 5 that it wants to build the 319-mile railroad line from Caliente, near the Nevada-Utah border 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, across the state to Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The route, dubbed the Caliente corridor, would avoid the Las Vegas area and skirt the vast Nellis Air Force Base bombing range and Nevada Test Site. The Energy Department has not announced routes it would use to get the waste from sites in 39 states to Nevada.


On the Net:

Yucca Mountain project: http://www.ymp.gov/

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/

Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste