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October 31, 2014

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Yucca Mountain:

State agency contemplating using $5 million to continue Yucca Mountain fight

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BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Yucca Mountain

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Nevada has nearly $5 million left to continue the fight against licensing of Yucca Mountain as a high-level nuclear dump, a state official said.

Bob Halstead, director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency, also indicated he is leaning toward asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision telling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to go forward with its licensing case.

“I feel we have a strong case, and we are seriously considering asking the court for a rehearing,” Halstead said, adding he would want the case in front of the full U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rather than just the three-judge panel that decided against Nevada.

For more than a decade, Nevada has been battling the plan to locate the dump in Nye County, challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 219 times to stop the licensing.

The U.S. Energy Department filed its application to license Yucca Mountain in 2008. But President Barack Obama refused to direct any money to the Energy Department to proceed and the agency tried to withdraw its application.

The states of Washington and South Carolina, which have nuclear waste building up, filed suit to force the regulatory commission to go forward.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled 2-1 that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was violating federal law by not proceeding with the licensing.

The petition asking for reconsideration isn’t due for another 38 days.

“We have sufficient funds to fight the fight until the end of the year, Halstead said Tuesday.

Of the nearly $5 million available, $2.4 million is in federal funds and the rest comes from other sources, including Nevada taxpayers.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission can decide to narrow the proceeding to a few issues. But if there is a full hearing, it will cost Nevada $9 million a year, with $5 million coming from the federal government. And the case could last four to five years, Halstead said.

Halstead said Nevada has been spending $100,000 a month gathering evidence and information to get ready for the hearings.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

In a report to the Legislature, Halstead’s agency said more than $8 billion has been spent by the federal government drilling 5 miles of tunnel. He said Tuesday that 90 miles of tunnel is needed to store all the waste safely.

He also said it would cost $3 billion for a rail system to ship the waste from the East Coast to Nevada.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely make a decision in October or November about the path it will follow, Halstead said. But that depends on whether the federal court decides whether to reconsider its decision.

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