Nevada seeks to derail Yucca train plan

WASHINGTON -- If there is likely to be no nuclear waste repository in Nevada, there is no need to think about building a nuclear waste railroad, attorneys for the state are saying to a federal board considering an Energy Department rail plan.

Nevada lawyers filed a motion Tuesday asking the Surface Transportation Board to suspend a DOE application to build a rail line from Caliente to the repository site at Yucca Mountain.

Support and funding for the Yucca project "has all but vanished" given the Obama administration's opposition to storing nuclear waste in Nevada, and its stated intention to cut deeply into the project's 2010 budget, attorneys said.

In effect, with the repository's fate up in the air, DOE is proposing to "construct and operate what could ultimately be a rail line to nowhere," they said.

Nevada tried out its argument in an 83-page filing to the federal transportation board. It underscores a point that, to the chagrin of some Nevada officials, the state must continue to battle the Yucca project in court and before federal and state agencies even though President Barack Obama has said he is against it. The Department of Energy has made no move to withdraw various applications for water, land access or transportation planning.

For more than a year, the three-member Surface Transportation Board has been weighing DOE's request for a certificate to build a rail line along a 319-mile rural Nevada corridor to the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

If the Surface Transportation Board declines to suspend DOE's rail proposal, the state submitted a backup request for the application process to be reopened.

Nevada asked for permission to make new arguments against the railroad. New issues have emerged in the year since DOE filed its application, state attorneys said.

For instance, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security have issued new safety and security rules for rail that have not been incorporated into DOE's plans, they said.

Also this week, Nevada and California filed separate notices in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that they intend to file lawsuits against the Department of Energy's rail plan, officials said.

The department's formal record of decision for the Caliente rail route that was issued last October relied on studies that "failed to analyze significant environmental impacts," according to a copy of Nevada's 10-page filing before the court in San Francisco.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ or 202-783-1760.