WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- As anti-nuclear activists protested nearby, business, utility and nuclear energy groups called Thursday for the Bush administration to move forward with plans for permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev.
The Energy Department has entered a 30-day window for public comment on deciding whether the site is suitable for the project.
The groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, gathered at the chamber's offices to say Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham should send the project to President Bush with a positive recommendation.
The groups were led by former Republican Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire, now co-chair of the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth's initiative on the topic. The alliance is a strong supporter of the president's energy plan, which includes proposals for more nuclear power plants.
Sununu said opposition to the project has entered the political arena, indicating Yucca's detractors have conceded the scientific soundness of the plan.
"They have not obviated the government's and our generation's responsibility for the stewardship of used nuclear fuel and defense materials (nor) the need to move forward, more now than ever in the glare of Sept. 11," Sununu said in a prepared statement.
The attacks prove the need for a single, well-defended storage site deep underground, he said, as opposed to the more than 100 short-term storage sites at each of the nation's nuclear plants.
A draft General Accounting Office report, critical of the Yucca proposal and calling for postponing its consideration, fails to reveal any "showstoppers," Sununu said.
Abraham has already denounced the report as "fatally flawed."
Whoever leaked the draft findings to the media seems to understand the inevitability of the project's success, he said. Saying the GAO responds "to the questioner, not the question," Sununu said the report's conclusions were preordained as soon as it was commissioned by staunch Yucca opponent Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid has said the report, which lists almost 300 unresolved technical points, shows the need to halt work on Yucca Mountain.
Bruce Josten, the Chamber of Commerce's executive vice president, also dismissed the GAO report, noting the states have been contributing to the project's fund for more than 15 years. Figures gathered earlier this year by the Michigan Public Service Commission show states have put more than $10 billion in ongoing payments into the fund, which with interest and other assets totals more than $18 billion.
Now is the time for the government to cash that check, said LeRoy Koppendrayer, a member of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and chairman of the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition.
Many nuclear plants have filled their spent-fuel pools and are resorting to above-ground "dry cask" storage, Koppendrayer said. Minnesota will hit a self-imposed limit on such storage by 2007, he said, so a permanent storage facility must be started immediately.
Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles from Las Vegas, was chosen by Congress in 1987 as the site to be considered for storing used nuclear fuel. Current plans for the site would seal the waste in metal containers and bury them hundreds of feet underground.
Opponents have raised concerns about the possibility of groundwater seeping into the site, contaminating area aquifers, as well as problems with heat buildup from the waste, which remains hazardous for thousands of years.