Monday, June 2, 2008

Not in this mountain

By Marlene Lang Late 2007 The quintessential drama is unfolding before us, pitting state’s rights against federal powers, with water as the weapon of choice. The state of Nevada and a federal judge stood up to Energy Department bullies whose mission is to make Nevada’s Yucca Mountain the nation’s radioactive waste dump. Well, not just the nation’s dump; government documents discuss the mucho-bucks to be made by bringing in the radioactive spent fuel of nations willing to pay any price to get the poison out of their own back yards. As ‘Nuclear Illinois,’ runs its air conditioners on that “clean, reliable and safe” nuclear power, the fray waxes hot in Nevada over where Southlanders – and everyone else – will dump their dirty leftovers. U.S. District Judge David Hunt recently denied a federal request to tie the hands of the state; Nevada stridently refused to provide the millions of gallons of water needed to lubricate and cool drill bits as workers collected rock samples. Testing of the site’s geology continues, five years after deadline, in efforts to show the site is safe for long-term nuclear waste disposal. Pause and think: Is any place on planet Earth safe for radioactive waste that will take 10,000 years to de-tox to safe levels? We are witnessing an epic American battle between state’s and federal government’s rights. Work crews tarried, awaiting permission to drill, after a judicially backed cease and desist order came down from the state engineer. They were given the nod, while the U.S. Justice Department accused Nevada of using water as a weapon. Damn straight. State officials, in turn, accused the DOE of having gained initial approval for the dumpsite by presenting fudged facts, which they say it is now trying to fudge afresh. Here’s the skinny, for readers who have not followed my previous reports: The desperate DOE faces a growing heap of breach of contract lawsuits – some 60 to date – from nuclear power providers. The fed failed to provide a permanent nuke dump by 1998, as required in 1982 legislation. Billions are at stake, even as radioactive spent fuel piles up in about 100 temporary tanks around the country. And as Nevada fights for Yucca Mountain, half a billion was allotted in the most recent federal budget to continue the project. Could it be pure desperation driving the bullish DOE claim that certain drilling was exempt from the orders of the engineer and judge? The Energy Department filed a motion to block Hunt’s order and one official stated flatly in court that the state had no power to shut down a federal government project. It’s a familiar form of audacity. Nevada is calling it contempt of court and bad faith. And to be fair, the state's refusal to accept a dump at Yucca Mountain is based on science that says it's not a good bet, with an underground fault line and all. Whatever we call it, the matter demands our attention, and now. Judge Hunt will revisit the case on Sept. 20. Sen. Harry Reid, (D-Nev.) said Nevada is waiting until Bush is out of office to completely defeat the project. If Nevada succeeds in getting the dump out of their backyard, the waste will have to find another home. Maybe a cornfield outside of Springfield.

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