Abraham's announcement follows last month's completion of nine additional public hearings into the project. The state of Nevada subsequently called for a judicial review of the project after a leaked draft report by the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, called for a site recommendation decision to be delayed. However, Abraham dismissed the report, saying it was "fatally flawed" and that it had been assembled to support a predetermined conclusion.
The notification, required by the Waste Policy Act, triggers a formal site approval process. Abraham could forward his recommendation to the White House as early as February 10, 2002. If the President responds favourably, Nevada will have 60 days to object, something it almost certainly will do. Congress must then attempt to override the state's objection by simple majorities of both legislative chambers within 90 calendar days of continuous session.
Abraham's move comes nearly 20 years after Congress first legislated a process for siting the nation's first permanent repository for spent commercial nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons waste. Back then, Congress selected nine locations in six states as potential repository sites and thought a facility would be ready by 1998. It mandated that the federal government be prepared to begin taking charge of spent fuel by January 1998. In 1987, the Waste Policy Act was amended to focus the effort on Nevada. Amidst continuing technical, political and bureaucratic controversy, the earliest that Yucca Mountain could go into operation would be 2010.
Nevada Gov Kenny Guinn, an outspoken foe of the facility, was defiant after his phone conversation with Abraham. "I told him that I am damn disappointed in the decision and to expect my veto," he said, adding: "I explained to him that we will fight it in the Congress, in the Oval Office, in every regulatory body we can - we'll take all of our arguments to court." At the conclusion of the call, Guinn told Abraham: "The whole process stinks - and we'll see him in court." Two Congressional critics of Yucca Mountain, Sen Harry Reid (D-Nev) and Rep Ed Markey (D-Mass), also questioned the impending suitability finding. Reid said there was a "mountain of evidence that the site is unsuitable."
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