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Western Shoshone Headed Back to Court to Challenge Yucca Mountain

Published by MAC on 2005-11-10

Western Shoshone Headed Back to Court to Challenge Yucca Mountain

November 10, 2005

Environmental News Service (ENS)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Based on an 1863 treaty, the Western Shoshone National Council is going back to court in another attempt to halt the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository in Nevada, a lawyer for the tribe said Wednesday. Its first lawsuit was dismissed November 1. Located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain is sacred to the Western Shoshone people.

The tribe's case is based on the Ruby Valley Treaty, authorized by then Civil War Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who was later elected President. The initial lawsuit, filed in March, claims that agreed uses of Shoshone lands under the treaty do not include a disposal site for radioactive waste or a railroad to trasport waste to Yucca Mountain as the federal government plans to do.

Reno attorney Robert Hager, who represents the Western Shoshone tribes, said the Council received notice this week that U.S. District Judge Philip Pro sitting in Las Vegas had rejected the tribe's argument that it had standing to sue the government because the two parties were equal signatories to the Ruby Valley Treaty.

The treaty recognized lands in what is now Nevada, California, Utah and Idaho as Western Shoshone tribal land. But in 1946, an Indian Claims Commission decided that the tribe lost the land through "gradual encroachment."

Judge Pro also ruled that the Las Vegas federal court lacked jurisdiction, and the case was premature because the Yucca Mountain project has not been built. "The challenged actions in this case are not final because the decision-making process regarding whether Yucca Mountain will become a nuclear repository is not completed," the judge wrote.

"Additionally, [the Energy Department] has not completed its decision-making process regarding methods for transporting waste to Yucca Mountain, should it be licensed," he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which represented the federal government's position, declined to comment on the ruling.

Judge Pro's decision comes two days after Congress agreed to cut the 2006 budget for Yucca Mountain development from $577 million to $450 million. Other setbacks to Yucca Mountain this year include a court ordered revision of radiation safety standards and an investigation into falsification of data by government scientists working on the project.

The date for opening the Yucca Mountain repository to accept the 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and Defense Department waste now stored at nuclear power plants and on nuclear reservations has been pushed back from 2010 to 2012 or even later now that the Energy Department has postponed submitting its application for an operating license to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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