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Washington sues to keep Yucca alive

State claims closing site sets back Hanford work

Shannon Dininny Associated Press

YAKIMA – Washington state filed suit Tuesday to stop the federal government from permanently abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, marking the latest clash in a long-standing dispute over where the nation’s nastiest radioactive waste should be stored.

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.

Opponents in Nevada for years have been fighting the proposed desert mountain repository 90 miles from Las Vegas.

The U.S. Department of Energy has said the site 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,” which would permanently remove it from consideration as the nation’s radioactive waste repository.

Abandoning Yucca Mountain without an identified alternative “significantly sets back cleanup at Hanford and puts our people and our environment at risk,” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said in a statement.

Nevada’s governor immediately fired back after receiving word of the lawsuit. “Since the state of Washington is so enthusiastic about underground storage of spent nuclear fuel, perhaps their governor and their citizens will volunteer to have the nation’s nuclear waste dump located within their borders,” said Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

Gov. Chris Gregoire supported Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, but the Democratic governor has said she supports the decision to intervene and that no option, including Yucca Mountain, should permanently be removed from the table.

South Carolina, which planned to send waste from the former Savannah River nuclear weapons complex, already has intervened in the case. Civic leaders in the Tri-Cities also have filed suit.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada senator believes the Obama administration has the authority to pull the license application for Yucca Mountain.

“It’s unfortunate that nuclear waste dump supporters are challenging the president’s decision to stop hemorrhaging taxpayer money on this dangerous and wasteful project,” spokesman Jon Summers said.

Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put licensing proceedings for Yucca Mountain on hold until the court cases are resolved.

Bruce Breslow, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects and the top state official working to stop the project, called the lawsuits premature.

“We expected everyone to sue after there is a final decision. We still expect everyone to sue after there’s a final decision. But there hasn’t been a final decision.”

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