The state of Nevada on Wednesday asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject the Department of Energy's application to license Yucca Mountain, calling for an end to the 25-year-old effort to put the proposed nuclear waste dump in Southern Nevada.
Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said the application contains numerous violations of the application requirements - starting with the fact that the Department of Energy doesn't even have a valid radiation safety standard.
"The license application cannot be reviewed or docketed without an EPA radiation standard, the fundamental public health and safety benchmark," she said.
And the license application, filed Tuesday, was legally required to be filed by September 2002, she said.
Bob Loux, who has headed Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects since the inception of the Yucca Mountain battle in the 1980s, said some of the nuclear power companies have softened in their support for burying thousands of tons of high-level waste in Yucca Mountain. Once buried, it would be almost impossible to retrieve the waste, he said.
"They want the fuel around for reprocessing for the nuclear renaissance," he said, referring to the recent push for more nuclear power plants to meet U.S. energy demands.
There is one strong positive in the Department of Energy filing, Loux said.
"This will be the first time in the 30-year history of the project that the Department of Energy will be legally accountable for their safety claims."
He said Nevada officials have seen the Department of Energy repeatedly change its rules, hide information from the state and use other improper tactics to try to push past the state's opposition to the dump.
He said he doesn't think the Department of Energy can convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the project is safe.
He said energy officials don't even want to install the drip shields over the storage casks despite the fact their data predicts that without the shields, the repository could fail and leak radioactive matter into groundwater in less than 1,000 years.
If the commission denies the application, both Loux and Masto said that's the end of the fight.
Masto said the agency is pushing hard for the project before a new presidential administration takes office.
"(The Department of Energy) is the only entity that is championing this cause," he said. "They decided to get this thing in as quick as they can."
No matter what, the process has a long way to go unless the commission rejects the application out of hand. He said his agency and the state expect to file up to 600 specific challenges, each of which would have to be heard by the NRC.
The Goshute Tribe in Utah, Loux pointed out, applied to become a repository site. The process took eight years to finish.
Nevada has spent probably $26 million in state funds and $128 million in federal money fighting Yucca Mountain, while the Department of Energy, Loux said, has spent upwards of $8 billion on Yucca Mountain and $11 billion overall.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.