WASHINGTON – Energy Secretary Spence Abraham briefed President Bush on Tuesday about why a nuclear waste dump should be built at Yucca Mountain in Nevada despite widespread opposition within the state.
Bush made no decision but is inclined to approve the site as early as Friday, several officials said.
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and the state's senators, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign, lobbied Bush last week to block the project.
Abraham endorsed the site last month, but has yet to present formally to Bush a document outlining his recommendation. By law, he had to wait 30 days before doing so, which passed Saturday.
A 1987 law designated Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as the only location to be studied for disposal of nuclear waste currently held at multiple sites around the nation.
If Yucca Mountain were to become the nation's nuclear waste site, the material would have to be shipped there from 103 spots around the country and through 43 states to Nevada. Opponents hope such a prospect, especially after Sept. 11, will be enough for those states' representatives to kill the project in Congress.
Energy Department officials say it is premature to address transportation issues for a site that has yet to be designated. Anyway, say nuclear industry officials, radioactive waste can be transported safely by rail and truck.
The law gives Nevada 60 days to override a presidential decision. Congress then would have 90 legislative days to counter Nevada's objection by majority votes in both houses.
Abraham traveled to Los Angeles last week and was still editing this week the paper he will give to Bush. Aides said it was ready for presentation, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Abraham did not give it to the president Tuesday.
"The president had a good opportunity to listen to both sides on the issue and follow up with questions," Fleischer said of the sessions with Abraham and the Nevadans.
Bush has not decided, Fleischer said. He would not say which way Bush is leaning, but other officials said he is likely to accept Abraham's recommendation.
White House officials believe Yucca Mountain would pass Congress.
They are also mindful of the politics of the decision, however, one administration official said.
A move to move ahead could endanger re-election prospects of Republican Guinn, although he has no serious Democratic rival now. Three House seats are at stake in Nevada, including one new one based on the 2000 Census. Fleischer said politics would play no part in Bush's decision.
Abraham, who notified Nevada officials on Jan. 10 that he will recommend the site to the president, called it a "scientifically sound and suitable" place to bury the nation's used reactor fuel now kept at the power plants.
The Energy Department's schedule calls for opening the site to waste shipments by 2010. That timetable could be overly optimistic, government and industry officials acknowledge.