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NRC says it will resume study of Yucca Mountain nuke site

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Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Updated Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 | 10:03 a.m.

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 »

Responding to a court order, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has directed its staff to complete work on a key safety report related to a never-completed nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

The commission order, issued Monday, follows an August ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which said the nuclear agency violated federal law by abruptly abandoning review of the proposed storage site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

The appeals court ordered the NRC to continue work on the proposed waste site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas until Congress directs otherwise or the agency runs out of money. The NRC says it has $11 million budgeted for the Yucca review, far less than needed to complete the five-volume study. Only one volume is finished.

The commission estimates it would need close to $100 million to complete the full review and decide whether to issue a license to the U.S. Department of Energy to build the burial site.

"The order contained no real surprises," said Bob Halstead of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. "The order confirms what Nevada has long believed to be the case — that the remaining appropriated funds are insufficient to enable the commission to complete the statutorily mandated hearing process and reach any final decisions on the safety and environmental impacts of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain."

Chief Deputy Attorney General Marta Adams said today the report won't consider the nearly 300 objections by the state to the legal, environmental and safety issues at Yucca Mountain. The state believes that trainloads of the nuclear waste would come within half a mile of 90,000 residents and 34 hotels in Las Vegas. Officials also say $15 billion in federal funds have been spent and it would cost another $95 billion to $100 billion to complete the project.

Adams said this preliminary step would take about $8 million of the $11 million left in the budget. If Congress does not appropriate more money — which she said hasn't happened for three years — the location north of Las Vegas in Nye County is dead.

The decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to proceed "is a minute part of the whole process," Adams said, adding that the state will not be required to take action immediately on the safety evaluation report but "we will be vigilant."

Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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