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Energy Department Spokesman Says Public Can Do Little about Selection

January 29, 1988

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ The public will have little say in any efforts to change the site selection process for the nation’s first proposed high-level nuclear waste dump, the head of the federal project said Thursday.

″Congress has said ’build it there if it’s suitable,‴ Carl Gertz said. ″Yes, we want to involve and inform the public, but there’s not much they can do to stop the dump from being built except to get the law changed.

″Congress said, ‘find a site.’ It may not have to be the very best, but it has to be built there,″ he said outside a technical workshop studying Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the dump site.

Gertz, the U.S. Department of Energy project director for the repository selection, said the site would have to be suitable to qualify for a license under Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards but would not have to be perfect.

His remarks came after a shouting match with members of a Nevada-based environmental group who objected to the way the study session was being run and then walked out.

″I object. This is a travesty and we demand that this plan be thrown out,″ Bob Fulkerson, executive director of Citizens Alert, shouted at Gertz to the applause of about 30 supporters who followed him from the meeting.

The department, Fulkerson said, was excluding the public from participating in the site selection process by holding technical workshops that don’t allow comment.

Fulkerson claims the energy department quietly set up the Reno workshop without informing the public and media. The plan outlines detailed geologic and hydrologic studies of Yucca Mountain, 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Gertz said part of the scheduled 15 1/2 hours of this week’s workshop has been set aside for questions. The agenda shows 1 1/2 hours of time for ″discussion″ in 15- and 30-minute blocks Thursday and Friday.

Gertz added that public hearings to allow additional citizen comment would be held in the spring.

″This is a technical workshop that allows public observation,″ Gertz explained. ″And we’ve allowed some time for public comment. I’m fairly disappointed they (Citizens Alert) didn’t want to stay around.″

Gertz said about $1 billion-$2 billion would be spent by the time the site study process is complete seven years from now. The plan is due to be released in early 1989.

Congress last year eliminated sites in Washington state and Texas from further study for the waste dump, leaving the Nevada location the only one still under consideration.

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