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Bush backs Nevada site for nuclear waste

Bush backs Nevada site for nuclear waste

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Friday endorsed the Energy Department's recommendation to store 77,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste in an underground facility in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, senior administration officials told CNN.

The White House will announce the decision Friday afternoon, officials said.

The officials said Bush will cite homeland security, national security and energy security as key reasons for storing high-level nuclear waste at the Nevada site.

According to senior officials, the president will say that:

  • An underground facility is a safer alternative for the 161 million Americans who now live within 75 miles of a temporary, above-ground waste facility.
  • Safe storage of nuclear waste is necessary to ensure that the Navy's nuclear-powered fleet can operate long into the future. Forty percent of the fleet is nuclear-powered.
  • Safe storage of nuclear waste will enhance public confidence in nuclear power generally, thereby creating more alternative sources of energy for a nation seeking greater energy independence.
  • Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham formally recommended Yucca Mountain as the storage facility late Thursday. Top White House advisers wanted to make a quick decision on the matter to minimize press attention and avoid questions about whether Bush was breaking a campaign promise.

    During the presidential campaign, Bush said he would only back Yucca Mountain if storage of nuclear waste there was based on "sound science."

    Opponents of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain contend that recent scientific analysis questions the safety of storing nuclear waste permanently at the site. The Energy Department's inspector general and the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, have recently issued reports questioning the quality of operations at Yucca Mountain.

    Bush's move is a crucial milestone in a process Congress set in motion in 1987 to find an underground storage facility large enough and safe enough to store high-level waste produced by nuclear power plants in 34 states.

    "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 wrote Bush late Thursday. "I am convinced that it does."

    Abraham had originally planned to submit the recommendation on Monday, but senior administration officials said he first wanted to respond to technical questions raised by the president and advisers.

    Bush is expected to swiftly endorse the recommendation. The president leaves Washington on Saturday for a six-day trip to Japan, South Korea and China.

    Under federal law, the Department of Energy is charged with finding a final resting place for 77,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants operating in 34 states.

    Currently, high-level waste is stored in 131 above-ground facilities in 39 states.

    Under a law passed in 1987, the Energy Department was authorized to study the suitability of only one potential underground storage site, Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Congress exempted other potential sites in Washington and Texas as part of the 1987 law.

    Numerous legal challenges have delayed a final energy department recommendation. The delays have added considerably to the cost of the project. To date, $6.7 billion has been spent.

    Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, a long-time foe of storing waste at Yucca Mountain, lashed out at Bush's decision, saying the president has betrayed his state and the environment.

    "President Bush has dropped the equivalent of 100,000 dirty bombs on America," Reid said in a statement. "All Americans should be concerned, not just because he lied to me or the people of Nevada and indeed all Americans, but because the president's decision threatens American lives."

    He said Bush's plan will eventually result in a shipment of 100,000 truckloads or 20,000 rail cars full of nuclear waste coming into Nevada -- what the senator called a prime target for terrorists.

    Reid dubbed the 1987 law singling out Yucca Mountain for storage the "screw Nevada bill." The only way Nevada's objection can block construction is for both houses of Congress to concur. That is not expected to happen.

    The current timeline calls for completion of the Yucca Mountain facility in 2010. It is designed to receive and store high-level nuclear waste for 100 years before being sealed and decommissioned.

    The high-level waste is to be stored 1,000 feet below the surface. Yucca Mountain is about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.




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