Aerial view of Yucca Mountain (Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy)

Oral arguments are slated Jan. 14 in a federal appeals court for Nevada's six-pronged challenge to the planned underground nuclear waste depository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Nevada officials told reporters at a Dec. 19 briefing in Washington that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has consolidated six separate lawsuits filed by the state and will hear their side and the federal governments counter-arguments at a January session. Joseph Egan, Nevada's lead outside attorney, said, "We're expecting a resolution of these cases in mid-2004." But he said its likely that whatever the appeals court decides, there will be appeals to U.S. Supreme Court.


Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says DOE is working on its application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the Yucca Mountain repository. That process, Egan says, could take four years.

In the meantime a major focus for the Nevada side is its litigation. One case contends that having a site in Nevada is unconstitutional. Egan says, "It is not constitutional for 49 states to gang up on one, politically isolated, essentiallly powerless state and impose an unwanted burden upon that state without some compelling rational basis." Its other suits challenge DOE's rules for determining the site is suitable, the environmental impact statement DOE issued for the project; and the Environmental Protection Agency's radiation standards.

One "thread" that runs through the suits, Egan said, is Nevada's objection to what it says was DOE's moving away from using the site's geology as the key factor to contain the radioactive waste.

Joe Davis, a DOE spokesman, says, "Nevada seems to be basing their case on the 1982 [nuclear waste] law, when in fact Congress changed the law in 1987 and 1992" to take into account recommendations by outside scientists. Davis adds that DOE "followed the law" and is meeting NRC and EPA regulatory guidelines "and we'll prove that in the NRC public hearing process" for the licensing.

Davis says, "I think Nevada's case is misguided. the obviously don't understand the particulars of the law and our case will bear that out.....We also make the case that this whole process is in compliance with the law." and also contends that Nevada "doesn't have a case at all."

Davis says, "We'll see what the court decides, but we're confident.