Energy near decision on nuclear waste facility
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Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham toured a proposed national nuclear waste dump in Nevada on Monday and said he was ready to make a decision on the controversial issue.

Giving no hint which way he was leaning and offering no timetable on the matter, Abraham only said he was at the end of his review of the Yucca Mountain project. Congress has requested resolution by February 28, fitting in with the Bush administration's goal to make a recommendation sometime this winter.

Located on federal land 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain is under consideration as the nation's designated repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste. It faces heavy opposition from state officials, politicians, residents and area tribes who fear the site will risk damage to the environment and to sites they consider sacred.

But President Bush -- to whom Abraham will make the recommendation -- has pushed nuclear storage as essential to a national energy policy. The federal government is mandated by law to take authority over the waste, and Yucca Mountain would provide a 1,350-square-mile home to some 77,000 tons currently being stored by private commercial utilities.

In recent months, the debate has heated up as obstacles threaten to derail the project, or at least embarrass the administration. Numerous lawsuits, not always successful, have been lodged by the state of Nevada, while Congressional and internal investigations have called into question the adequacy of the site and its players, including a law firm which recently bowed out of the project after an appearance of conflict of interest.

Among the latest battles are whether the site could withstand a terrorist attack, whether new regulations limiting study of environmental impact are legal and whether the costly facility can be opened by its target date of 2010 as it exceeds cost estimates. In regard to terrorism, the DOE went so far as to remove from its web site electronic copies of site plans, maps and other studies for fear the information could fall into the wrong hands.

For a consortium 17 tribes in Nevada, Arizona, California and surrounding states, any battle helps the case against Yucca. Aboriginal homeland to a number of Shoshone tribes, the area is used for gathering, hunting and other purposes, resources the tribes feel will be harmed by radiation leaks.

Tribes have actively submitted comments to both the DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency on the site but some, like the Timbisha-Shoshone Tribe, located about 80 miles west of Yucca Mountain, feel the government has repeatedly left them out of the process.

Before Abraham makes a recommendation, he must publish a final environmental impact statement and respond to comments by Nevada and affected tribes.

Nearly $7 billion has been spent on studying the site, which is expected to cost more than $50 billion to construct. A 100-year license has to be obtained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Relevant Links:
The Yucca Mountain Project, Department of Energy -

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