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Nevada Is Pick For Nuke Waste

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Addressing the most troubling issue facing the nuclear industry, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham on Thursday chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada to be the nation's burial site for thousands of tons of nuclear waste.

Abraham concluded the site 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas was "scientifically sound and suitable" as a repository for highly radioactive used reactor fuel now kept at commercial reactors in 31 states, a department spokesman said.

A final administration decision will be up to President Bush, who has championed the need for a central disposal site for the waste and is expected to seek a federal license for the site in the coming months.

"The secretary made his decision on sound science," said Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis.

Nevada officials, who have fought the proposed dump for more than a decade, reacted angrily to Abraham's decision. They argue that despite 13 years of intense scientific study the federal government has not adequately shown that the public can be protected from future radiation.


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"This decision stinks," Gov. Kenny Guinn said after speaking with Abraham.

"I want to tell you what I told him in succinct fashion: I'm damned disappointed in this decision and he was to expect my veto. I explained to him that we are going to fight this with every ounce of energy we can mount," Guinn said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Abraham's decision was hasty, dangerous and premature given "the mountain of evidence that the site is unsuitable."

Abraham, in notifying Guinn of the decision, said "sound science and compelling national interests" as well as growing concern about nuclear materials since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks require wastes to be consolidated at a central site.

But even a presidential decision is not expected to end the bitter debate over siting of a national waste dump. The final word over the Yucca Mountain dump probably will come from Congress.

Under a 1982 law, which directed the government to assume responsibility for the commercial nuclear industry's highly radioactive waste, only Congress can override the expected Nevada veto.

The site, which still faces a myriad of legal challenges from Nevada, is not expected to be ready to accept waste until 2010 at the earliest.


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The government has spent $6.8 billion to study the Nevada site since 1983. After reviewing three sites, Congress settled on Yucca Mountain in 1987 as the location to be pursued.

The Nevada site is a mountain of volcanic rock formed 13 million years ago. For nearly two decades, scientists have worked to determine whethe its geology, volcanic history and hydrology are suitable for storing materials that will remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

Power utilities have promoted the Yucca Mountain site as the most secure and safest place to put the used reactor fuel now kept at reactor sites. More than 40,000 tons of wastes already have built up at the plants with 2,000 tons added each year.

The site, if finally approved and licensed, is expected to hold up to 77,000 tons of waste, buried in a labyrinth of bunkers 900 feet beneath the surface.

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