The Department of Energy's proposal to conduct studies on a potential high-level radioactive waste repository in Nevada could make southern Utah a "sacrifice zone," said Janet Gordon of Citizen's Call, a Cedar City-based anti-nuclear group.
"We could have high-level nuclear waste going through our communities on the freeway, one every hour, 24 hours a day, and the potential for disaster is pretty frightening," she said.The Interior Department has approved a DOE plan to withdraw public land at Yucca Mountain to carry out the subsurface scientific studies, said DOE spokesman Darwin Morgan.
Meantime, the DOE will resubmit permit applications to the state of Nevada for scientific work to be done by the federal agency at the Nevada Test Site, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, to determine if high-level radioactive waste in containers can be deposited safely.
However, the state likely will appeal the Interior Department's decision and possibly file lawsuits against the DOE on the grounds that constitutional issues were not addressed in a recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Judy Treichel, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Task Force.
The DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) filed the permit applications with the state in 1988. In December 1989, the state returned to DOE the applications unprocessed.
In January 1990, the state filed suit against DOE in the appellate court, claiming the Nevada Legislature's rejection of the Yucca Mountain site gave the state the right to prohibit the DOE from carrying out the congressional mandate under the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987.
But in light of the court's Sept. 19 ruling that the congressional directive overrides all state objections, the federal agency is resubmitting the permit applications, said DOE Director John Bartlett.
"We want to get on with the scientific studies at Yucca Mountain with the state's close oversight," he said. "And as soon as the state grants these permits, and we can begin these new on-site studies, I will recommend funding at levels sufficient to assure the state can provide appropriate oversight and review of DOE's technical activities."
The Public Land Order was published in the Federal Register on Sept. 25 by the Bureau of Land Management. The order withdraws 4,255.5 acres of public land from the mining and mineral leasing laws for 12 years, Morgan said.
The studies would include surface and subsurface geologic and environmental investigations. Morgan said the DOE will construct exploratory shafts or possibly one shaft and one ramp, to the depth of a potential repository, or about 1,400 feet below the surface.