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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - January 25, 2002: Nuclear Waste - 2002-01-24

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

The United States Energy Department has approved building a huge nuclear waste burial center at Yucca Mountain in the state of Nevada. The nuclear waste dump would be used to bury about seventy-thousand tons of nuclear waste material.

The material includes used nuclear fuel from power centers and waste from the production of nuclear weapons. The waste is now stored at power centers around the country. However, these power centers have little storage space left.

The federal government owns Yucca Mountain. No one lives there. It is in an extremely dry area more than one-hundred-forty-five kilometers northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recently told Nevada state officials that the nuclear waste burial project is scientifically acceptable. He also said placing all of the country’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain would help protect against terrorist attacks.

Mister Abraham said he will ask President Bush to approve the project. Officials of nuclear power industries also support the plan.

However, there is much opposition to the plan. Opponents include environmental groups, Nevada state officials, the two United States senators from Nevada and the Senate majority leader.

The dispute about Yucca Mountain has continued for many years. The federal government says the area is a good place for a nuclear waste dump because of its lack of population and low rainfall.

But opponents say the area is near inactive volcanoes and has experienced earthquakes. Movements in the earth could spread the radioactive material. Opponents say they are not sure if the rock could hold the waste and keep it from entering water underground.

Opponents also say the nuclear waste would have to be transported by trucks and trains across more than forty states to reach the proposed dump. They fear accidents could happen during this travel. Any such accident could endanger the population.

Congress still must approve the plan. Then the Energy Department must request permission for the project from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission must hold hearings. Then hearings must provide evidence that Yucca Mountain could hold the nuclear wastes for ten-thousand years, as government rules require.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.