The U.S. Energy Department has approved a remote Nevada site to dump the nation's vast amounts of radioactive waste. Environmental groups and Nevada lawmakers object to the proposal, citing safety worries about long-term radiation leaks, geologic faults near the site, the effects on underground water movement, and possible groundwater contamination.
A repository would be built under Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas, under the plan endorsed by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The site would store 70,000 tons of radioactive materials from the nation's nuclear power plants for about 10,000 years deep within the mountain.
Abraham telephoned Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, on Thursday afternoon to inform him of the long-awaited decision.
"I am damn disappointed in this decision," Guinn said in a statement. "At the conclusion of the call I told the secretary that I think this decision stinks, the whole process stinks and we'll see him in court." The plan was also immediately opposed by the Senate's top two Democrats.
Abraham said he will forward a formal recommendation to President Bush in 30 days, the time allotted by law for Guinn to review the controversial proposal.
Abraham emphasized that a single U.S. waste site was crucial for national security since the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York, which raised public and political concern about guarding the nation's radioactive material.
"There are compelling national interests that require us to complete the siting process and move forward with the development of a repository, as Congress mandated almost 20 years ago," Abraham said in a letter to the governor.
The Yucca Mountain site, which will not be in operation until at least 2010, will help "ensure America's national security," the Energy Department said in a statement.
Used fuel from the nation's 103 nuclear power plants is piling up at a rate of about 2,000 tons a year, according to the U.S. utility industry, which has pressed the federal government to designate Yucca Mountain as a waste repository.
The Nuclear Energy Institute praised Abraham's decision as "the right scientific thing to do" to safely manage the huge amounts of nuclear waste generated by power plants. Putting all the waste in one secure site is better than forcing individual nuclear power plants to store it, the trade group said.