Wash. to intervene in Yucca Mountain case | NevadaAppeal.com

Wash. to intervene in Yucca Mountain case

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) – Washington state announced Monday it would intervene in the federal government’s decision to withdraw its license application for a Nevada nuclear waste repository.

The move marks the latest show of the state’s angst over the Obama administration’s decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain project as an option for permanently storing high-level radioactive waste.

Waste and spent nuclear fuel from south-central Washington’s Tri-Cities, site of the highly contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation and the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear plant, had long been intended to go to Yucca Mountain.

The federal government has said the proposed desert mountain repository 90 miles from Las Vegas is no longer considered an option for radioactive waste storage. It has a motion pending to withdraw its license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “with prejudice.”

That means it would be permanently removed from consideration as the nation’s radioactive waste repository.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said he remains deeply disturbed by the federal government’s departure from a repository plan that dates back to the early 1980s.

“My office continues to develop a legal strategy that it believes will provide the greatest benefit to the people of Washington – especially those in the Tri-Cities who remain concerned about the permanent disposal of the nuclear waste currently stored and awaiting processing there,” McKenna said in a statement.

McKenna’s office notified parties in the case Monday of its intent to intervene and plans to file its formal petition later this week.

Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire, said the governor supports the decision.

“Given that Hanford is in Washington, she has concerns about permanent storage and thinks at this point in time no option should permanently be removed from the table,” Shagren said.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site. Environmental cleanup plans call for disposal of Hanford’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in a geologic repository, such as Yucca Mountain.

Last week, three civic leaders in the Tri-Cities filed a federal lawsuit against the Energy Department, saying its decision to abandon Yucca Mountain violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

On Friday, a federal court awarded the operator of the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear plant nearly $56.9 million in damages from the Energy Department.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2006 already had determined that the agency was in breach of contract with Energy Northwest for failing to begin accepting used nuclear fuel from its Columbia Generating Station in Richland.

Energy Northwest is a public power consortium, comprised of 28 public utility districts and five city utilities, that provides low-cost power for its members.

Ratepayers receiving nuclear energy from Energy Northwest pay a per-kilowatt-hour fee to the Energy Department for construction and operation of the national nuclear waste repository.

Energy Northwest said Monday that Northwest ratepayers have paid about $290 million into the fund since Columbia Generating Station began commercial operation in 1984.

In 2001, with Yucca Mountain not an option, the utility built its own used fuel storage area at the plant. Energy Northwest then filed suit in 2004, seeking nearly $56.9 million in damages it said would recoup those costs.

The Energy Department has 60 days to file an appeal.

Federal courts already have found the Energy Department in breach of contract for not taking ownership of the spent fuel now being stored at nuclear reactors, as dictated by law. According to industry figures, future liabilities could top $11 billion.