Yucca critic wants clarity

A Department of Energy memo that calls for ending next month the pursuit of a license for the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository has the state’s leading project opponent wondering whether federal budget officers mistakenly wrote “December 2009” instead of December 2010.

“Somewhere in the memo, it did say they plan to stop licensing in December ’09, which doesn’t make much sense to me, considering the president just signed the legislation … funding it until Sept. 30,” said Yucca Mountain opponent Bruce Breslow, executive director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects.

“The best guess I have is it’s a typo that should have said 2010,” he told Nevada’s Nuclear Projects Commission on Tuesday.

But typo or not, the memo remains a clear indication that the Department of Energy intends to abandon its decades-long push to obtain approval from nuclear regulators to store the nation’s highly radioactive waste in the mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The Oct. 23 draft memo from DOE’s chief financial officer to nuclear waste program budget officers contains an attachment that slashes next fiscal year’s Yucca Mountain funding down to $46.2 million from this year’s level of $196.8 million. In addition, it states, “All license defense activities will be terminated in December 2009.”

When asked if the December 2009 reference was a mistake, DOE spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said in an e-mail that she’s “not going to comment on the memo but the department will meet all legal obligations and deadlines.”

One of those deadlines is Dec. 7 when lawyers for the DOE and Nevada must submit briefs to a licensing panel on legal questions about safe disposal, which are among 221 challenges raised by the state.

Nevada’s top legal consultant, Marty Malsch, said he’s eager to find out whether DOE lawyers will meet next month’s deadline or default.

“If DOE doesn’t file a brief on Dec. 7, it would likely kill the project,” Malsch said.

Malsch cautioned, however, that it remains to be seen if DOE’s termination of its effort to defend the license application will lead it to actually withdraw the application and declare the site unsuitable.

Breslow said the state needs to continue advancing its opposition.

“Unless they change the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, it still has the effect of the law as Yucca Mountain is the only site that is pointed out to go forward. So what we do is duck our heads and keep working.”

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


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