Wash. sues to open nuclear waste site

Associated Press / April 14, 2010

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington state filed suit yesterday to stop the federal government from permanently abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, marking the latest clash in a dispute over where the nation’s nastiest radioactive waste should be stored.

Waste and spent nuclear fuel from south-central Washington’s Tri-Cities, site of the highly contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation and the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear plant, had long been intended to go to Yucca Mountain.

The US Department of Energy has said the proposed desert mountain repository 90 miles from Las Vegas is no longer considered an option for radioactive waste storage. It has a motion pending to withdraw its license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “with prejudice,’’ which would remove it from consideration as a radioactive waste repository.

Abandoning Yucca Mountain without an identified alternative “significantly sets back the cleanup at Hanford and puts our people and our environment at risk,’’ Rob McKenna, Washington’s attorney general, said in a statement.

Nevada’s governor immediately fired back after receiving word of the lawsuit.

“Since the state of Washington is so enthusiastic about underground storage of spent nuclear fuel, perhaps their governor and their citizens will volunteer to have the nation’s nuclear waste dump located within their borders,’’ said Jim Gibbons, a Republican.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb. Today it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

Chris Gregoire, Washington’s governor and a Democrat, has said no option should be permanently off the table.

South Carolina, which planned to send waste from the former Savannah River nuclear weapons complex, already has intervened in the case.