Hands Off Water For Yucca Mountain

Nevada's top water official has put the federal Energy Department on notice to stop using Nevada water to drill bore holes at the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site and let state inspectors confirm compliance.

A letter Wednesday to a top Yucca Mountain site official in Las
Vegas follows U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt's refusal on Friday to
block a State Engineer Tracy Taylor's June 1 cease-and-desist order
on water for the site.

The order, which was temporarily lifted then reinstated on July 20, "is still in full force and effect," Taylor wrote in the letter to Scott Wade, director of the Energy Department's Environmental, Safety and Health Division.

"I ask that you immediately confirm that you have stopped using water and that you contact me to make arrangements to allow officials of the Office of the Nevada State Engineer to enter your facilities on Friday," Taylor's letter reads.

The Energy Department got the letter and was formulating a response, said department and Yucca Mountain project spokesman Allen Benson.

He declined to say whether water was still being used or if bore hole drilling had been suspended.

The judge ruled the Energy Department violated a court-approved agreement by using Nevada's water to drill to extract rock samples
for data project officials say they need to build surface facilities near the mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The water is used to cool and lubricate drill bits and to make mud for collecting core samples.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires data about the potential for earthquakes and floods at the site to be included in a license application for the planned repository that DOE intends to submit by June 2008.

Allen Biaggi, director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which includes the State Engineer's office, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Thursday report that Hunt's decision "was pretty clear and convincing."

"We want them to confirm to us that they have stopped using the water, and we're going to send somebody down there on Friday to
verify," Biaggi said.

"I want to make it clear that we're very appreciative that the judge's order upholds Nevada's 103-year-old water law and the state's jurisdiction over the resource."

He said Gov. Jim Gibbons "has taken a strong stand on Nevada's water law in this case and a strong stand against Yucca Mountain."

"We had worked out a way they could use water for certain things. What they're doing with the water at the site was not in that agreement," Biaggi said.