A plan to ship nuclear waste from Nevada to New Mexico through Southern California was canceled Wednesday because of opposition from California officials, the U.S. Department of Energy said.
It marked the first time shipment plans had been halted because of a state's resistance, Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said. There were no immediate plans to reschedule the truck shipments of medium-level waste on the circuitous 300-mile route through California. The shipments were to have started as early as today.
"The waste that we ship to New Mexico for storage, we have never had a state that I'm aware of not agree to let us use a route," Davis said. "This sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of radioactive waste shipments."
He said much of the waste that would have been shipped originated in California before it was moved to Nevada.
The Energy Department did not indicate how much waste would have been trucked, or exactly when the shipments would have occurred.
The department's decision came after the Western Governors' Assn. notified the agency that California did not concur on the route. The agency's protocol is to get a state's agreement before shipping, Davis said.
"This is not a delay," he said. "We're canceling the shipments until the Western Governors' Assn. and the state of California and state of Nevada can engage together and propose a meaningful compromise."
The chief objection was the roundabout route from Nevada through California and Arizona to a disposal facility in New Mexico. Part of the trip was to have been along California 127, a road that authorities said is not designed for heavy trucks, is poorly maintained in places and is popular with tourists heading to Death Valley.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Tom Marshall said the agency didn't necessarily object to moving low-grade material through the state, but didn't want the state to become the primary route for shipping higher-grade material.
The dispute could be a run-up to a larger fight over highly radioactive material that is supposed to be transported from nuclear power plants to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada, which could open as early as 2010.