Don't let DOE Change Nuke Waste Guidelines

Readers Note: This editorial board opinion was published in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday, February 4, 1997.

Yucca Mountain: If necessary, state should sue to ensure agency abides by original rules

Nevada officials were right when the threatened recently to sue the U.S. Department of Energy if it changes the rules for deciding whether Yucca Mountain can be used to store nuclear waste.

The DOE is proposing to modify guidelines that have been in effect since the search for a place to put waste from the nation's nuclear power plants began some years ago. Instead of requiring that the southern Nevada mountain work naturally to contain the waste for the next 10,000 years, DOE wants to test whether man-made barriers will work to keep radioactive materials from escaping.

Couple that proposal with the fact that last year the nuclear power industry spent nearly $2 million pushing Yucca Mountain, through advertising and junkets, and it's easy to come to the conclusion that there is no real desire to test the mountain's suitability for the task. Rather, it appears that the DOE wants only to find a way to demonstrate a conclusion that has already been reached.

Fortunately, the secretary of energy-designate, Federico Pena, indicated last week that he wouldn't let political concerns rush the process. Meeting with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will have to confirm his nomination, he said that he supports President Clinton's promise to veto a bill that would send waste to Nevada as a "temporary" measure as early as 1999. That plan is supported by the committee's chairman and the nuclear energy industry, which is currently saddled with 30,000 tons of waste and no place to put it, but Nevada opposes it, of course.

With the study continuing on Yucca Mountain, it makes no sense to begin moving waste in when it might not meet the criteria for a permanent site. DOE's proposal to change the guidelines indicates that it is not confident that it will ever meet those criteria.

That's why it's mandatory that the state do whatever it takes to ensure that DOE stays the original course, event if it means that Yucca Mountain eventually fails the test, as man Nevadans believe it will.


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