Waste storage gets few volunteers

While federal law gives the government the final say on where to put nuclear waste, states are not necessarily happy to see the materials arrive.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges recently challenged the pending shipment of six tons of weapons-grade plutonium to the Savannah River complex near Aiken, S.C. It would be brought from a Colorado nuclear-weapons plant for reprocessing into fuel for nuclear-power plants. The US is required to decommission some 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium under arms-control agreements signed with Russia.

Governor Hodges wanted a binding agreement from the federal government that any plutonium left unreprocessed would not permanently remain in the state. He even posted state police at highway roadblocks to prevent trucks carrying the material from entering. However, a federal judge last week barred Hodges from blocking the shipments.

Strong resistance to President Bush's designation of Yucca Mountain as a permanent waste depository has also sprung up in Nevada. In April, Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed the site selection, and an override by both houses of Congress is now required to revive the project. The House of Representatives has already voted to override that veto, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved an override. The full Senate has until July to cast its vote.

Nevada has also filed a half-dozen lawsuits in federal court challenging the process used to select Yucca Mountain. In the latest suit filed this month, Nevada alleged the Energy Department failed to address the environmental impact and terrorist risks of shipping fuel to Nevada.

Even if the Yucca site is approved, more challenges will likely continue as shipments begin. Communities from suburban New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio, have announced they don't want fuel shipments passing through their jurisdictions. The US Conference of Mayors this month voted to oppose shipments to Yucca until cities along the routes have adequate funding and training to handle accidents or terror attacks.

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