Governor challenges Yucca Mountain call

A worker conducts an underground train from the entrance of Yucca Mountain in Nevada. In an effort to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats on energy legislation, President Barack Obama is calling for a new generation of nuclear power plants to be b

Isaac Breekken

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday that President Barack Obama's decision to abandon a decades-old plan for Nevada's Yucca Mountain could cost South Carolina $1.2 billion and leave the permanent storage of thousands of tons of nuclear waste in question, and the governor is prepared to sue over it.

Sanford urged Obama to back off his Feb. 1 decision and stick to the 23-year bipartisan compact to use the Nevada facility as a resting ground for the country's nuclear waste, including 4,000 metric tons temporarily housed at the Savannah River Site and elsewhere in South Carolina.

The two-term Republican governor said Obama was motivated to reverse course as a way to ensure U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's re-election in Nevada.

The president decided to eliminate all funding for the facility and withdraw its license application with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The decision will cost the country its $10 billion investment in the Yucca Mountain facility, including $1.2 billion from South Carolinians, Sanford said. State residents continue to pay money for the storage facility through monthly utility bills.

If Obama does not change his mind before the end of the month, Sanford said he will pursue legal action.

"This issue is too big to be driven by partisan politics in Washington, D.C.," said Sanford, a former congressman.

White House regional communications director Moira Mack defended the president's position. To meet storage demands, Obama established a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission to review policies for managing nuclear waste, including all alternatives for the storage, processing and disposal, she said.

"President Obama believes that nuclear power is a vital part of our energy mix which can create jobs and fuel our economy," Mack said in a statement. "As we move to expand nuclear power, the president is fully committed to ensuring that the nation meets our long term storage obligations for nuclear waste."

Reid's spokesman Jon Summers said Democrats won't be deterred from doing what's best for the country. Reid is awaiting recommendations from the U.S. Department of Energy on how to best proceed, Summers said.

"It's clear whether they're in Nevada or out of state, Republicans are united in their effort to bring nuclear waste to Nevada. That won't happen," Summers said in a statement. "Working with Senator Reid, President Obama's administration has decided to let science determine how best to dispose of the nation's nuclear waste."

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican running for governor, said his office has been researching possible legal remedies available to South Carolina.

"This includes consultation and collaborative discussions with attorneys general in similarly situated states, utility executives, nuclear industry legal experts, former (Energy Department) officials, and state and local officials from the Aiken, Savannah River Plant community," McMaster said in a statement.

Other efforts to derail Obama's decision also are under way.

U.S. 3rd District Rep. Gresham Barrett, also a GOP candidate for governor, said he is drafting legislation to urge the president to reverse his decision.

On the state level, Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said he will file a resolution to set in place a process for South Carolina to recoup the money it invested in Yucca Mountain and lay plans for a permanent storage facility for the nuclear waste currently at the Savannah River Site.

Ryberg said his legislation would look to protect the state in the event Obama does not reverse his decision and legal action doesn't prevail.