House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt has urged a St. Louis suburb to help challenge any government plans to ship nuclear waster through Missouri, calling such a move bad for the country and Missouri.

"Safety has to be the paramount issue," the Missouri Democrat said Sunday during a rally at a converted train station here in response to President Bush's decision last month to ship high-level nuclear waste to a Nevada storage site.

Bush approved the recommendation of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham that nuclear waste be moved to the Yucca Mountain repository, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The site could house about 77,000 tons of waste generated by nuclear power plants nationwide.

Gephardt said he favors leaving the waste right where it is. European nuclear power plants encase their radioactive waste in glass and fiberglass and store the glass bricks on site, Gephardt said, calling that a safer alternative to moving tons of radioactive liquid along unreliable rail lines through heavily populated areas such as St. Louis.

On Sunday, Gephardt and Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch signed a petition to protest the Yucca Mountain decision and urged residents to add their signatures to the list.

Gephardt told reporters that he did not know if it would cost more to store nuclear waste at power plants or ship it to Yucca Mountain, though he said safety -- not cost -- was the most important factor.

Abraham has said the material could be transported safely, and Bush said that storing the waste at a central site is safer than having it scattered at 131 sites.

The president needs congressional approval to move forward with the plan to send radioactive material to Yucca Mountain, Gephardt said. Congress could stop the shipments by pulling from the appropriations bill the money required to finance Bush's plan, Gephardt said.

John Hickey, a community activist, said he found out a couple of weeks ago that nuclear waste could travel along the tracks that run just northwest of his local home. His worry: the consequences if a train hauling nuclear waste derails, as a coal-loaded one did in another part of this suburb last summer.