Nuclear, Reactors, Waste Management & Decommissioning

Energy Secretary Selects Yucca Mountain as U.S. Disposal Site

Issue 2 and Volume 106.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has chosen Nevada’s Yucca Mountain to be the nation’s disposal site for long-term nuclear waste. Abraham concluded the site 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas was scientifically sound and suitable as a repository for highly radioactive used reactor fuel now kept at commercial reactors in 31 states and tons of government nuclear weapons waste. Secretary Abraham’s decision comes after a 40-year debate around the search for a safe storage place for nuclear waste.

A final administration decision will be up to President Bush, who has championed the need for a central disposal site for the waste and is expected to seek a federal license for the site in coming months. But additional maneuvering in Congress and in the courts mean that any final decision could still be years away.

Under a 1982 law, Nevada can veto the selection of Yucca Mountain if the president formally approves it. However, Congress can override the state’s veto. In addition to a debate in Congress, the state of Nevada can take its case to court, a process almost certain to begin once the president approves Secretary Abraham’s choice. The state of Nevada and Clarke County, which includes Las Vegas, have set aside some $5 million in a special fund to launch a legal defense against the use of Yucca Mountain.

Even without Nevada’s veto of a presidential approval, the earliest that waste could be stored at Yucca Mountain is 2010.