Fallout Over Nevada's Nuclear Destiny
"We've solved the nuclear waste problem," declared Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) two years ago when Congress instructed the Department of Energy to consider permanently interring the nation's high-level nuclear wastes within Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
Now, Johnston isn't so sure about that, and many others echo his uncertainty.
In late November, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced dramatic revisions in its plans for site analysis and preconstruction testing at Yucca Mountain and in its long-term schedule for interring wastes. Though Congress had ordered the federal government to begin accepting high-level radioactive wastes by 1998 for disposal at a yet-undetermined site, DOE now says it cannot offer a permanent storage vault until 2010 at the earliest. And even that prospect rests on the suitability of the Nevada site, where wastes would lie buried 1,200 feet below the surface. If the site proves unacceptable or unavailable, forcing DOE to look elsewhere, department officials say the earliest date for beginning permanent burial will slip well beyond 2010.
Indeed, if Nevada has its way, the department will have to scout out a new gravesite soon. DOE applied two years ago for state permits to begin preliminary testing at Yucca Mountain, and though such permits normally take 75 days to obtain, Nevada officials have yet to process even one. In November, DOE asked the Justice Department to bring suit against the state …