WASHINGTON -- President Bush pointed to national security and the need to support the nuclear industry as major reasons to push ahead with a nuclear waste dump in Nevada -- one he said he is convinced is scientifically sound and should be built.
The decision prompted an immediate outcry in Nevada where Democrats accused Bush of breaking a campaign promise not to saddle them with 77,000 tons of nuclear waste that will remain dangerous for 10,000 or more years.
The Republican governor filed suit challenging the approval process.
Even former Vice President Al Gore weighed in after Bush announced he would go ahead and build the underground waste dump 90 miles from Las Vegas, calling Bush's decision on Yucca "a flat out broken promise" from the 2000 campaign.
For Republicans in Nevada -- where virtually everyone agrees the dump ought to be somewhere else -- the situation became especially precarious as they sought to distance themselves from the decision, but not alienate the GOP president.
"I'm very disappointed, although not surprised," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., holding back his criticism of Bush, but aiming instead at the Energy Department which he said "has been hell bent on shoving waste into our backyard, regardless of what science and common sense shows."
Nevada GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn said he was outraged. Within hours, Nevada filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the way the decision was made, claiming the procedures that were used violated a 1982 law. The suit had been expected.
In matters of nuclear waste, science and politics have often vied for top billing. It is almost certain to be the case as the debate over the proposed Yucca Mountain waste repository now moves to Congress, which will decide whether to uphold the president or side with Nevada.
It could all be decided this fall -- just before election time.
Bush, in a letter to congressional leaders Friday, said he approved the go-ahead for the Yucca Mountain project because a central repository for the more than 77,000 tons of waste building up at power plants and defense sites "is necessary to protect public safety, health and this nation's security."
The president, following the advice of his energy secretary, said his decision "is the culmination of two decades of intense scientific scrutiny" and that he is certain the science is sound.
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