Elko Independent

Monday, January 05, 2004

State receives OK to spend money on nuke hearings, Elko County not included

WASHINGTON -- After waiting more than seven months for a decision, Nevada officials have been told the state can spend a $2.5 million congressional allocation on participation in the upcoming Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings regarding licensing of the Yucca Mountain project.

The Energy Department intends to file a license application for its potential nuclear waste storage site at Yucca before the end of the year. The state plans to file several objections during the licensing proceedings that will follow. In April the DOE sent a letter to Bob Loux, head of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, saying the money Congress approved for the state to use for oversight in 2003 should not be spent on the state's opposition to the project until further notice. The state is awaiting the renewal of additional funding for oversight of the project.

In addition to funding for the state, nine other counties in Nevada are hoping to continue receiving oversight funds as well.

The nine counties were designated as “Affected Units of Local Governments” (AULG) by the DOE five years ago and received funding for the same type of oversight activity. Eureka County launched a website at http://www.yuccamountain.org to explain activities to Eureka County residents related to Yucca Mountain as Eureka County could see approximately 14 miles located along a proposed nuclear waste transportation route if the “Carlin Corridor” route should become the DOE’s first choice route.

Although four Elko County cities and Elko County could be impacted if the “Carlin Corridor” is selected by the DOE as the first choice to transport nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, the local government units of Elko County and the cities of West Wendover, Wells, Elko and Carlin were never designated as AULG by the DOE or given funds over the past five years to provide public oversight. The “Carlin Corridor” would cross much more than the 14 miles it would connect to at Beowawe in Eureka County.

However, Yucca Mountain officials have been in contact with various public and elected officials from throughout Elko County over the past five years who have made field trips to the proposed facility or heard from former Nevada Governor Bob List who is now employed by the DOE. Those who took field trips to Yucca Mountain included elected officials from the City of Elko and the Elko County Commission as well as board members and administration staff of Great Basin College.

At this time, Elko County and the four cities are not included to receive oversight funds from the DOE. Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini has been serving as the county’s representative on Yucca Mountain related issues.

W. John Arthur, the Yucca project's deputy director, apparently has now lifted the freeze on the State’s funds. In a Dec. 23 letter to Loux, Arthur wrote that the department has evaluated the issue and nothing under federal nuclear waste law prohibits the use of that federal money for NRC hearings preparation.

Loux called the letter "a home run for us." State officials and lawyers are still preparing Nevada's case against the licensing, but they also say they are confident the federal court will rule in their favor on several lawsuits the state has filed and stop the project later this year.

There also are lingering questions about future federal funding for the state regarding Yucca Mountain.

Nevada still has not heard back from the Energy Department or the Office of Management and Budget on a letter Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval sent Dec. 10 regarding funding for 2005.

Sandoval threatened legal action if the administration did not restore funding for the state's oversight activities by January 2.

Sandoval's spokesman, Tom Sargent, said Sandoval has not received a response yet, but there is no immediate intention to file legal action. He said Sandoval is giving federal officials a grace period, but that the issue is still being watched. The administration usually releases the next fiscal year's budget in February. An OMB spokesman said it is customary not to discuss anything about the next budget until the president issues his requests.

President Bush's budget for 2004 contained no funding for Nevada oversight of the Yucca-related activities, but Congress eventually approved $1 million for the state.

Compiled by Suzanne Struglinski, AP & Las Vegas Sun writer and Ursula Powers, Elko Independent staff writer.