- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002


Nevada officials made a last-minute plea to President Bush yesterday, trying to dissuade him from approving construction of a nuclear waste site in their state until safety issues are resolved.

"Yucca Mountain should not go forward at this point," Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, said after a closed-door 25-minute meeting in the Oval Office.

The president gave no indication of how or when he would decide whether to move ahead with the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, said Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

But the senators and Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn viewed their meeting as the last chance to get Mr. Bush to hold off on any decision.

The president is expected to decide in favor of the Yucca Mountain site as early as next week, congressional and administration sources said.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham endorsed the site on Jan. 10, but is required by law to wait 30 days before making a formal recommendation to the president. That time is up tomorrow.

Mr. Abraham called it a "scientifically sound and suitable" place to bury the nation's used reactor fuel that is now kept at nuclear power plants.

But Mr. Guinn said the group's main pitch to the president was that too many questions remain unanswered to move ahead now. Any decision, Mr. Guinn said, should be "predicated on sound science that will last for thousands of years."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Republican, said he made essentially the same point at a morning meeting with Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Mr. Gibbons conceded that the September 11 terrorist attacks clouded the issue somewhat, and quoted Mr. Rove as saying that nuclear plant safety and national security implications are weighing heavily on Mr. Bush.

"I said the lack of adequate science should weigh heavily too," Mr. Gibbons said.

With Nevada officials vowing to try to prevent the shipment of up to 77,000 tons of nuclear waste into their state, a final decision will be up to Congress. Nevada can block a presidential decision, but Congress can then overrule the state.

Even after a presidential decision, it will be at least 2010 before the site once it gets a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be ready to take any of the waste now being kept in spent-fuel pools and concrete bunkers at nuclear power plants around the country.

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