Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval vows fight on Yucca Mountain
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Despite a setback from a U.S. licensing panel, opponents of a national nuclear waste repository in Nevada say they will press the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to examine new science about potential dangers stemming from erosion at the site.
Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval also reaffirmed his determination to block the Yucca Mountain project and said President Barack Obama personally reassured him during a visit to Washington, D.C., last month that he won’t reconsider his own opposition to Yucca Mountain.
“I will not consider accepting high-level nuclear waste in our state – period,” Sandoval said in a statement on Wednesday.
A three-judge panel of the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected most of nearly a dozen legal issues the state of Nevada brought in opposition to plans to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Among other things, the Construction Authorization Board on Monday denied Nevada’s contentions that the federal Department of Energy is required to include a final, detailed design for the repository and surface facilities in its license application.
Instead, the board agreed with the Energy Department and NRC staff positions that a final design is not required – only that it be “as complete as possible in light of information that is reasonably available.”
The board noted the DOE must update its application with additional design information obtained during construction.
“We see no indication that the commission intended a blanket requirement for complete ‘final design’ information at the initial construction authorization stage,” according to the ruling from the board, led by Thomas S. Moore.
A bright side for opponents in Nevada was that the board agreed to allow the state to challenge the facts of the safety issues during an extended licensing hearing.
“The judges made special note of Nevada’s scientific claim that erosion could cause the surface of Yucca Mountain to completely erode during the first 10,000 years of the project, leaving waste unprotected by the mountain’s geology in the future,” said Bruce Breslow, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. Breslow heads the state’s Yucca Mountain opposition.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said she was disappointed in the board’s ruling, but also “encouraged that the CAB recognizes the serious safety issues inherent in the DOE’s poorly executed license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain project.”
“The EPA standard for the proposed repository requires that the high-level nuclear waste must be isolated from the public and …. for a million years,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The hearing process is continuing even though the Obama administration opposes the project and the Energy Department has asked the board to withdraw its license application. The board has denied that request and the NRC has appeared to be divided on the topic.
Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that a lawsuit seeking to relaunch plans for the Yucca Mountain dump can go forward. The DOE has until Jan. 3 to file a brief defending its authority to shut down the site.
The states of Washington and South Carolina and the National Association of Utility Regulators filed the suit that insists only Congress can decide Yucca Mountain’s fate.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and aides to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday the project has been dead for some time and that continuing reviews of the proposal is a waste of taxpayer money.
“While the NRC may not have ruled in Nevada’s favor on this latest challenge, the Yucca Mountain Project is already in mothballs and by the time we’re done, this boondoggle will be a pile of bleached bones in the Nevada desert,” Berkley said.