Nevada sues DOE over Yucca impact

By SCOTT R. BURNELL, UPI Science News  |  June 7, 2002 at 1:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- Nevada's legal fight against the proposed nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain is unlikely to attract other states in support, observers said Friday.

The state's latest action attacks the Department of Energy's environmental impact statement on Yucca.

"The DOE has utterly failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act," said Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa in a statement. "By rushing the EIS out the door prior to completing hundreds of necessary studies, or even defining a basic repository design, DOE has made a mockery of NEPA and must be challenged."

The suit, filed late Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, comes as no surprise, said Joe Davis, a DOE spokesman.

"The Yucca EIS represents 24 years of scientific work. It is thorough and complete," Davis told United Press International. "We expect these lawsuits at every turn."

None of the people contacted by UPI gave any indication other states would join the lawsuit. Steve Kraft, an executive with the Nuclear Energy Institute, said no legal issues are raised that could later aid another state. Davis said other states with nuclear waste sites have no reason to delay progress on Yucca.

The site, approximately 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, lies close to Death Valley and therefore has a very dry climate, considered essential for long-term storage of nuclear waste. The DOE plan would place tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel and other waste inside corrosion-resistant casks, which would be entombed in a layer of dense volcanic ash about 1,000 feet below the surface, and about 1,000 feet above the local water table.

Nevada used a provision of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to formally oppose the DOE's recommendation of Yucca, and Congress is in the midst of overriding that veto. The House overwhelmingly passed its override in early May, and the Senate must do the same by July 25 to move the project forward.

The lawsuit states the NWPA requires a geological repository, so inclusion of the man-made containers invalidates both the EIS and the site. DOE's Davis said the statute calls for natural and engineered barriers to work together in slowing down the movement of radioactive materials from the site over its expected 10,000-year lifespan.

The state's action is one of desperation, said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who sponsored the House override resolution.

"They can't use science to discredit Yucca because all the science is there," Barton told UPI. "It's just another attempt at delay tactics having nothing to do with science and everything to do with obstructionism."

Nevada has every right to file suit, said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who led the fight against the override resolution in the full House.

"The Bush administration has failed to comply with many of the requirements of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and with our nation's environmental laws in its rush to stick Nevada with the nuclear Queen of Spades," Markey told UPI via e-mail. "Hopefully, the courts will make a decision on this case based on the law and on sound science, not politics."

The lawsuit repeats statements by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., that the Yucca EIS does not cover 54 non-commercial nuclear waste sites, such as research reactors at universities. Those sites are covered by earlier impact statements, Kraft said. Even though the EIS includes more information than required by law, Nevada is selectively picking passages from relevant statues to try and make its case, he said.

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