Feds challenge Nevada order on nuke dump site water
LAS VEGAS – Justice Department lawyers have filed an emergency motion in U.S. District Court, challenging a Nevada order against using state water for drill rigs at the federal government’s planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.
The lawyers, representing the Department of Energy, moved Wednesday to block state Engineer Tracy Taylor’s June 1 cease-and-desist order, which was reinstated Friday.
The 45-page document says the federal government isn’t trying to undermine Nevada’s water permit process and believes Taylor’s order is illegal.
Bob Loux, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency, said nothing in the complaint was unexpected. He said state attorneys probably will file an answer to the motion early next week that will be followed by a court hearing.
“We believe that DOE under federal law, after the site recommendation, is not allowed to collect any more data,” Loux said, noting that the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain Project officials understood “that collecting data is unreasonable.”
The state engineer’s cease-and-desist order had been on hold since June 12 until Friday, when the federal government rejected his demand that the water not be used to drill bore holes to extract soil-and-rock samples because the data-collection project is not in the state’s interest.
The seismic or “geotechnical” information is needed for licensing surface facilities where the government plans to temporarily store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and radioactive defense waste to cool it and sort it before entombing it in the mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Nevada officials have contended that the site characterization process ended in 2002, when it was recommended to President Bush. Five months later, on July 23, 2002, Bush signed legislation overriding then-Gov. Kenny Guinn’s veto of the project.
In December 2002, the state and the Department of Energy entered into an agreement approved by Hunt that allowed DOE officials to use a limited amount of water at the site for showers, restroom facilities, dust suppression and emergencies such as fires.
Taylor issued the cease-and-desist order after state officials learned that DOE workers were using Nevada’s water for purposes outside of the court-approved agreement.