Deseret Morning News graphic

Western states should stand together against the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository proposed for Nevada, says a Nevada official.

Marta Adams, a senior deputy attorney general, calls the U.S. Department of Energy "disingenuous" about Yucca Mountain. The most recent bombshell involving the site is the federal government's announcement last week that a review to validate scientific studies about water infiltration and climate may have been falsified.

While Nevada organized a strong, tenacious fight against the repository, the Utah congressional delegation sided with the federal government. Rather than support the neighboring state as they should have, said Adams, Utah has "thrown us under the bus." She said Idaho also took that approach.

Utah's senators did not back Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in attempting to kill the repository and keep the 40,000 tons of waste where it is now stored — at nuclear power plants.

Adams cited Deseret Morning News reports that in 2002 Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both R-Utah, voted for the repository after six Eastern utilities promised not to commit funds for a temporary storage site in Tooele County.

Today, the Private Fuel Storage facility planned for Skull Valley, Tooele County, is gathering momentum while Yucca Mountain is stalled.

"I really would encourage the West to get together here" in opposing Yucca Mountain, Adams said Monday.

As an example of the DOE's maneuvering, she cited an agency press release quoted by the Deseret Morning News last week — a quotation that prompted her to contact the newspaper. The July 9, 2004, release concerned a U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Yucca Mountain. The DOE statement made it seem as if DOE had won in court.

"I am pleased with today's decisions handed down by the court," Spencer Abraham, then secretary of the DOE, is quoted in the release. "The court dismissed all challenges to the site selection of Yucca Mountain. Our scientific basis for the Yucca Mountain Project is sound."

The only aspect vacated by the court, indicates the DOE statement, was a 10,000-year compliance period.

But the compliance standard is a critical aspect of the repository, Adams indicated. "While Nevada did not prevail in all of its challenges . . . the key part of the challenge that Nevada made was to the radiation standard."

The state prevailed on that standard, a safety feature that is mandated by federal law, she said.

"When the court struck the environmental protection standard, the radiation standard, it also invalidated the licensing rule" that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must apply.

"There's no going forward until they get a standard that can withstand challenges."

The recent announcement that U.S. Geological Survey documents may have been falsified in Yucca Mountain studies is a somewhat separate issue but pertinent to the quality and integrity of data used to support the project, she said.

On Thursday, Brian Sandoval, Nevada's attorney general, wrote to U.S. Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales seeking immediate action on the matter.

Gonzales should "direct that DOE immediately make all e-mails relevant to this matter available to my office," Sandoval wrote. (The alleged falsification was brought to light in e-mails.)

"Second, I ask that your office move immediately to secure the entire Yucca Mountain data base at the project site to protect it from further manipulation. To the extent fraudulent activity has occurred, no one connected with the project should be allowed access to the very data being investigated."

According to Adams, the geology at Yucca Mountain is not good for a nuclear waste repository.

"Yucca Mountain itself is in one of the most seismically active zones in the country," she said.

A key issue is groundwater travel time, the rate at which water flows through the mountain, she said.

If water flows through the mountain relatively swiftly, in geological terms, it might erode the storage site sooner than the design standards are supposed to allow.

Adams cited one study carried out in part by Los Alamos National Laboratory that groundwater can travel through the mountain in 50 years.

Researchers "found a radioactive isotope from atomic testing in the Pacific" that suggested a fast travel time through the mountain. "That study put DOE in a hard position to move forward on Yucca Mountain," she said.

DOE then asked the USGS to conduct another examination. It was this testing that was involved with the purportedly falsified information, she said.

"We believe Yucca Mountain's in its death throes," she said. Still, "it's a very concerning situation."

Adams said she believes Utah is "finally waking up (to the fact) that it's not just Nevada's problem."

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