LAS VEGAS - Nevada plans to ask a court to block the Energy Department from holding a series of public hearings on a proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
Bob Loux, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the meetings are being held prematurely. The public meetings are one of the last steps before a recommendation on the site is made to President Bush.
The state will look to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal to block the Energy Department hearings because the final environmental impact studies have not been released by the agency, Loux said.
''We don't think they (public hearings) can take place until an environmental impact statement is done,'' Loux said. ''If you don't know the impact, it's impossible to have public comment.''
Loux added that if the state can't get a court injunction to stop the meetings, ''we'll sue after the fact and force them (DOE) to hold more meetings.''
DOE officials said the meetings remain on schedule, though the agency was scrambling to find a place to host the first of the three after the Suncoast hotel-casino canceled its contract with the agency.
Suncoast attorney Barry Lieberman said the resort does not have enough space to accommodate the thousands of people who are expected to turn out for the first hearing, Sept. 5.
The DOE's Nevada Operations Office in North Las Vegas is being considered as an alternative, DOE spokesman Allen Benson said.
Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said holding the hearing at the DOE office is unacceptable.
''To have the hearing at the DOE intimidates the public,'' Loux said. ''There is barbed wire fencing and guards.''
Loux called for a delay in the three public hearings on the project because he said a study to be aired at the meetings is flawed.
The DOE's Preliminary Site Suitability Evaluation report, released last week, has ''no legal or substantive basis'' for evaluating Yucca Mountain as the national repository for 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste, said Loux, who heads the state agency created to oppose the repository.
''We think that the DOE's evaluation disqualifies the site,'' he said.
During the meetings, DOE officials are expected to outline the project and residents will have the opportunity to testify. Public hearings also are scheduled Sept. 12 in Pahrump and Sept. 13 in Amargosa Valley near the site, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
Complaints from Reid prompted DOE officials to broaden the scope of the public hearings by offering the proceedings by teleconference to three other Nevada cities - Reno, Elko and Carson City. An Internet webcast of the proceedings also is in the works, DOE officials said.
Reid has called three, three-hour hearings inadequate to address what he called ''intense public interest and concern'' about the proposal.
''These are the last public hearings scheduled before the secretary of energy's recommendation to the president,'' Reid said Tuesday.
Nevada's four-member congressional delegation and virtually all of its state lawmakers are opposed to the Yucca Mountain site.
Yucca Mountain is the only place in the nation being studied for nuclear waste burial. Since 1982, the DOE has spent some $7 billion in site studies. The project is expected to cost $58 billion over 100 years.
Abraham is expected to recommend to President Bush by the end of this year whether the site is suitable to begin accepting nuclear waste in 2010.