Nevada has sued the Energy Department, its latest salvo in an ongoing campaign to block a possible federal government move to bury the nation's radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, challenges the Energy Department's criteria for deciding whether radioactive waste can safely be buried at Yucca Mountain. The state wants the court to stop the project before Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham decides whether to recommend Yucca Mountain as a suitable place to bury spent nuclear waste, said Bob Loux, director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency.
"The DOE is changing the rules about how they assess whether Yucca Mountain is suitable or not," Loux said. "We believe the new rules are not in compliance with the law."
The lawsuit charges that the Energy Department has constructed a new plan that relies on engineered barriers such as corrosion-resistant casks rather than the geology of Yucca Mountain to contain the intense radioactivity at the site.
But Joe Davis, Energy Department spokesman, said the agency reshaped its guidelines to take advantage of emerging technology. Davis said he had not seen the lawsuit.
Abraham said last week he has not made a decision on whether to recommend to President Bush that the volcanic ridge be used for storing 77,000 tons of nuclear waste for 10,000 years or more. Congress has asked for a decision by Feb. 28. Abraham's aides have said he intends to make a recommendation this winter.
Nevada state and federal lawmakers strongly oppose the project and are fighting it on political, environmental, public relations and legal fronts.
Last month, the state asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to decide whether Nevada can block the federal government from getting the water needed to develop the project in the arid desert. A three-judge circuit court panel had ordered the case heard by a U.S. District Court judge in Las Vegas. It has not decided on the Nevada request for a full hearing.
The mountain, at the western edge of the vast Nevada Test Site, is the only place under study.
By Ken Ritter
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