Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has said he will recommend the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as the place to store the country's nuclear waste. But Abraham's widely expected Jan. 10 announcement is by no means the last word in the long debate over how and where to put waste material from nuclear reactors. President Bush also must formally approve Abraham's recommendation, and the state of Nevada and Congress must go along.

(Illustration by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

Abraham notified Nevada Gov. Kenny C. Guinn (R) of his decision in a Jan. 10 letter. The Energy Secretary said that he believes "the science behind this project is sound and that the site is technically suitable for this purpose."

But Guinn quickly, and bluntly, reacted to Abraham's announcement. Guinn said, "I told him that I am damn disappointed in this decision and to expect my veto." He adds, "At the conclusion of the call I told the Secretary that I think this decision stinks, the whole process stinks and we'll see him in court."

Nevada's congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D), also is sure to pull out all the legislative stops to block locating the disposal site at Yucca Mountain. Even before Abraham's announcement, Reid issued a statement calling the choice of Yucca Mountain a "hasty and dangerous decision." Reid said, "President Bush has an opportunity to cut through the bureaucratic pseudo-science, see this project for the sham that it is, and do the right thing for America and Nevada by changing course."

(Illustration by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

Abraham cited "compelling national interests" for moving ahead on a site, including national security, improving protection of the waste from terrorists, ensuring nuclear power's role in domestic energy generation and helping to guard the environment by disposing of the waste.

Last May, the Dept. of Energy estimated that the repository would cost $57.5 billion, including $8.2 billion spent between 1983 and 2000. The total was 26% higher than DOE's 1998 projection.

Joe Colvin, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, hailed Abraham's announcement. He says, "With nearly two decades of exhaustive analysis to support this action, the impending recommendation to the President that Yucca Mountain is a suitable site to build a state-of-the-art nuclear waste management facility is the right scientific thing to do."

Abraham has at least 30 days to issue his formal recommendation to Bush.