Bush OKs Yucca Mountain

1 March 2002

President George Bush has approved the Department of Energy's (DoE's) recommendation of Yucca Mountain as the site of a national repository for spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

On January 10, energy secretary Spencer Abraham informed Gov Kenny Guinn that he would recommend that president Bush certify the site as suitable for a permanent repository. On February 15, Abraham said in a letter to the president: "I have considered whether sound science supports the determination that the Yucca Mountain site is scientifically and technically suitable for the development of a repository. I am convinced that it does." Almost immediately after Abraham's recommendation, Bush gave his approval, saying that the issue would now go to Congress, which would have the chance to consider any final objections by the state of Nevada, which opposes the scheme.

A statement issued by the White House said: "In the course of making his decision, the president listened to the governor, the state's senators, and representatives of the people of Nevada and gave careful consideration to their views." It concluded: "Since the Congress passed a law requiring a repository in 1982, this has been a serious issue for the American people. The president recognises that the law now gives Nevada the opportunity to disapprove the recommendation and, if they do, then the Congress will have an opportunity to act. After two decades, the time has come to resolve this issue once and for all." Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, responded by saying he would fight the decision. "I was hopeful that president Bush would keep his promise to Nevada not to push the project forward absent a sound scientific basis. The president has let that opportunity go," he said, adding: "Nevada will now pursue every means available to ensure that the laws of science and the nation ultimately prevail.

"I have...60 days in which to veto the recommendation. I will do so. The House and Senate leaders will then have 90 days to decide whether to override the veto by majority votes of each chamber. If the 90 days of consecutive session pass, then the veto stands.

"Nevada, did not pick this fight, but we are determined to win it." Guinn also filed a lawsuit in US District Court naming Bush and Abraham. The plaintiffs were the state of Nevada, Las Vegas and Clark County. The lawsuit alleges that the DoE violated the 1982 nuclear Waste Policy Act when it announced in December that Yucca Mountain would require man-made barriers as well as its natural geology to contain the waste. The Act specifies that the geology of the chosen site had to be sufficient to safeguard the waste without additional construction. The lawsuit also accuses the DoE of breaking rules by not allowing the state to review environmental studies 30 days before approving the site. Greg Bortolin, a spokesman for Guinn, said: "The governor's office received the environmental impact statement only hours before the president made his recommendation."

• The budget request for fiscal year 2003 to advance the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, defence, and commercial spent nuclear fuel into a permanent repository is $527 million - an increase of $152 million over the current year. Of this, $212 million would come from the federal Nuclear Waste Fund. Consumers of nuclear-generated electricity pay one tenth of a cent per kWh on their monthly electricity bills into the fund. The balance of the request, $315 million, would come from Defence Department nuclear waste disposal funds.

The increase in funds will provide for technical activities to support the development of the repository licence application; continue design work to develop final construction drawings and specifications; conduct performance confirmation testing, monitoring and evaluation activities; and continue development of the Nevada transportation design and planning.
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