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Originally published Monday, April 19, 2010 at 3:18 PM

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Washington state right to join lawsuit to keep Yucca Mountain open

The highly radioactive nuclear-defense waste stored at Hanford must not remain there. Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is right to file a federal lawsuit to stop the Obama administration from shutting down Yucca Mountain, which Congress designated as the repository.

WASHINGTON state is moving decisively to take on the Obama administration's decision to shut down work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.

Last week, Attorney General Rob McKenna joined the state of South Carolina by filing suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stop the shutdown.

No wonder, Hanford in Southeast Washington has nearly two-thirds of the nation's defense waste accumulated over a half century and South Carolina has defense waste at the Savannah River site. These two states especially have done more than their share in carrying the Cold War burden. The waste, as it is stabilized, must be moved to a permanent repository as Congress requires.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration made good on the president's Nevada campaign-trail promise to shut down the isolated Yucca Mountain repository. Congress designated the site, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as the repository not just for defense waste but for 63,000 metric tons of the nation's commercial nuclear fuel. The move could well buoy the re-election prospects of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is believed to be in trouble.

Over the objections of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the U.S. Department of Energy axed Yucca Mountain's budget, began to shut down operations and moved to suspend the site's Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit application "with prejudice," meaning it could never be considered again.

Meanwhile the administration charged a new blue ribbon commission with reviewing waste repository alternatives to Yucca Mountain — just not Yucca.

In an era of dire concerns about the federal deficit and the waste of taxpayer money, the idea the Obama administration would throw away about $10 billion of work at the Yucca site is nothing short of galling. At the very least, the administration should keep Yucca as part of the conversation.

McKenna is right to step up Washington's efforts to keep the Obama administration from precluding Yucca Mountain as the permanent repository. Hanford should not be stuck with the waste.

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