Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2017

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Bush OKs Yucca for nuke waste dump

President Bush approved Friday Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's strongly worded recommendation that a national nuclear waste dump be constructed at Yucca Mountain.

Gov. Kenny Guinn vowed to veto the president's order and continue fighting the proposed repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"We are in the fight for our life," Guinn said.

Under the law that designated Yucca Mountain as a potential repository, Guinn's veto will send the issue to Congress, which will need to pass the measure on a simple majority of both houses. The state is pressing ahead with several lawsuits.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he was "very disappointed, although not surprised" by the decision, and he cited baseball great Yogi Berra's words "it ain't over till it's over."

"Nevada has earned its name and reputation as the 'Battle Born' state," he said. "Now the real battle begins."

The president made his decision less than a full day after Abraham sent his letter of recommendation to the White House. Bush met with Abraham earlier this week about Yucca Mountain and met with Guinn, Ensign and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid recalled the president's campaign promise to make a decision based on "sound science," and said in his meeting with him the president "vowed to wait until he received and reviewed all of the scientific evidence on Yucca Mountain."

"Today President Bush has broken his promise," Reid said.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said he thought Bush was "misled" by the Energy Department.

"The president relied up on the scientific information presented by the Department of Energy, which for years has rushed head-long toward approving Yucca Mountain," Gibbons said.

Guinn, who learned of the decision in a phone call Friday afternoon from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, refused to say whether he felt the president had kept his campaign promise.

"I can't speak for him," Guinn said. But he repeated there are too many scientific questions to be answered.

In his letter, Abraham noted two decades of Energy Department research and said he believes the desert site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas is a safe place to permanently bury the nation's most radioactive waste.

"I have considered whether sound science supports the determination that the Yucca Mountain site is scientifically and technically suitable for the development of a repository," Abraham said. "I am convinced that it does."

Abraham said Yucca Mountain would have the "elements necessary to protect the health and safety of the public, including those Americans living in the immediate vicinity, now and in the future."

The Energy secretary said he weighed "national compelling interests" in his decision, including national security, environmental concerns and longterm energy goals.

Guinn now has 60 days in which to issue his veto. He said he will meet with the congressional delegation to determine the best strategy when that veto should be made. Congress then has 90 days to override the veto.

Guinn called for unity among the state's leaders in the fight.

"We're in a fight for our life on this issue and that is why it is so important that we stay together in this resolve. And I believe we will. Every public official -- is all on the same vein whether we be Republican or Democrat," Guinn said.

Nevada leaders have the support of the Senate's Democratic leadership and of House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Ill. said he was "deeply disappointed" by the president's decision.

"There is not nearly enough scientific knowledge to reach a conclusion about the safety of transporting, then dumping, thousands of tons of radioactive nuclear waste in the state of Nevada," Gephardt said.

While the leadership may help in the state's lobbying efforts, Guinn noted that Nevada is "against 39 other states."

He suggested the state may have its best chance in court, where the state has a series of lawsuits that have either been filed or are being prepared. Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa said her office filed another lawsuit in the case with the decision, and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said the city was also filing suit.

The governor believes the law has been violated because he was not furnished a final environmental impact statement and given a 30-day opportunity to comment on it. He said he still hasn't received the document.

"If we had been dealing with trustworthy individuals -- why wouldn't you have given it (the final EIS) to somebody to look at?" Guinn questioned. "Everybody gets to look it when we do it." He said the state should have been shown "courtesy and due process."

The argument by the DOE, the governor said is that the law doesn't require it to provide him a copy of the EIS. But that will be one of the issues in the court suit.

He said the Energy Department or the nuclear industry may go to court to challenge the law that allows the governor to veto the siting president. But he said the state could come back and ask that the full law designating only Yucca Mountain be studied be declared unconstitutional.