WASHINGTON – Nevada was dealt a blow in its effort to avoid a radioactive waste dump Tuesday as a federal appeals court turned aside arguments against transportation plans.
Nevada contended that the Energy Department overstepped its authority and violated environmental rules in deciding to rely mostly on trains to take 77,000 tons of commercial spent fuel and high-level defense waste from sites around the country to Yucca Mountain, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
The state also raised a series of technical objections to the department's selection of the 319-mile Caliente Corridor — stretching from Caliente near the Utah border to Yucca — as its preferred route for getting nuclear waste to the dump once it reaches Nevada.
"We conclude that some of Nevada's claims are unripe for review and the remaining claims are without merit," said a decision written by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
"We do no think that the inadequacies to which Nevada points make the (Final Environmental Impact Statement) inadequate," the opinion said. "The DOE's selection of the Caliente Corridor therefore was not arbitrary or capricious."
Joe Egan, an attorney for Nevada, said the state was considering whether to ask for a rehearing.
"It just looks to us like the court didn't want another anti-Yucca decision here. They really went out of their way to pound this decision into DOE's favor, in our view," Egan said.
The same court dealt a setback to Yucca Mountain two years ago by throwing out the government's radiation safety standards for the dump. The Environmental Protection Agency still is rewriting those standards.
The court didn't address some of Nevada's underlying arguments, saying the time was not right for review as aspects of the Energy Department's waste-transport plans aren't final.
Egan also said that some of the ground covered in the lawsuit may be moot because the Energy Department already has changed some of its plans, including announcing a new multi-use canister for waste transportation.
The department also is considering reviving a possible alternative to the Caliente Corridor because the Walker River Paiute Tribe, which has a reservation in the western part of the state, recently withdrew its long-held opposition to hosting a rail line for waste.
The challenge to the waste transport plan was just one avenue Nevada is pursuing against the long-delayed Yucca Mountain project, which is now scheduled to open in 2017 — 19 years late. The state is ready to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's new radiation standards as soon as they're released, and it has sued over Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule-making on the dump.
Nevada's congressional delegation, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also takes every opportunity to cut funding and create political hurdles.