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Yucca application filed on Inauguration Day

While the Obama administration has been pursuing a course to kill the Yucca Mountain Project, the Department of Energy has been quietly forging ahead with its plan to obtain water rights for building a rail line across rural Nevada to haul the nation’s highly radioactive waste for burial in the mountain.

On the day Barack Obama was sworn in as president, a DOE official in Las Vegas filed a water rights application for the rail project with the state engineer’s office.

Without saying if the application will be rescinded, Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s spokeswoman said Friday that it “was submitted during the previous administration and should not be taken as any indication of the Obama administration’s policy, especially since the president’s budget announcement made it clear yet again that the administration does not consider Yucca Mountain an option for waste storage, period.”

“Secretary Chu is committed to beginning the search for alternative waste storage and disposal alternatives,” Chu’s press secretary, Stephanie Mueller wrote in an e-mail.

The water rights application is dated Jan. 20 and signed by Ned B. Larson, manager for DOE’s Caliente rail corridor project.

The document’s time-dated stamp shows the filing was completed at 10:44 a.m., or about 11/2 hours after Obama took the oath of office for the first time. He recited the 35-word constitutionally prescribed oath again on Jan. 21 before Chief Justice John Roberts because the word “faithfully” had been spoken out of sequence during the inauguration.

Regardless, the water rights application, like DOE’s license application filed last year with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is considered by department officials to be an action carried over from the Bush administration.

The water rights application cost DOE $29,000 to file because it seeks use of the state’s water for 103 temporary wells and 13 permanent wells along the 333-mile rail corridor from Caliente west to Yucca Mountain.

Each well will cost $350,000 to construct for withdrawing a combined 6,000 acre-feet of groundwater to compact the railroad bed and suppress dust, according to the application.

On Friday, Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Director Bruce Breslow said state officials are aware that DOE applied for the water rights.

“We are working with the attorney general’s office and we will be protesting those applications in the future,” Breslow said.

He noted that the state engineer has rejected past water applications from the Department of Energy because granting water rights for a nuclear waste repository isn’t in the public interest.

“With the president’s clear message that he does not plan to move forward with the Yucca Mountain project, we feel these applications do not make sense,” Breslow said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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