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WASHINGTON - As plans to bury nuclear waste deep inside Nevada's Yucca Mountain limp along, wounded by disclosures of possible scientific fraud, the head of the company pushing for temporary storage in Utah says it doesn't matter whether Yucca Mountain dies.

Private Fuel Storage will press ahead with its plans for Utah's Skull Valley site regardless of Yucca's fate, says John Parkyn, chief executive officer of the coalition of utility companies behind the plan.

"We know there will be [a permanent repository] someplace. It's just a question of where and when," Parkyn said in an interview. "PFS is just temporary. We aren't applying for a permanent storage license and we don't want one."

Even as the $58 billion Yucca Mountain project faces its most dire threat to date from revelations that scientists may have falsified research data, Private Fuel Storage's proposal just keeps rolling. Now in the final stages of receiving a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plan calls for "temporary" storage of 44,000 tons of waste atop concrete pads on Goshute reservation lands 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Continued progress on the PFS site while Yucca founders raises ominous questions about spent nuclear rods being orphaned indefinitely in Utah.

"How can a facility be temporary when the place you're going to send it - Yucca Mountain - isn't built?" asks Dianne Nielson, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "If Yucca Mountain isn't going to be built, then the waste needs to stay where it is, at the reactor sites in the control of the companies that generate it where it's quite safe until a permanent solution can be found."

The state argued that point before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, but the board rejected it. It will likely be part of the state's case, either before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or before a federal appeals court, Nielson said.

Meantime, the Energy Department revealed last month that documents regarding water penetration at Yucca Mountain may have been fabricated. Nevada officials have argued that water beneath the mountain could corrode the casks.

The Nevada permanent storage project was already at least 14 years behind schedule, and the Bush administration has requested only about half as much money as planned in next year's budget.

Last week, Nevada's governor, attorney general and congressional delegation used a House hearing to scold Energy Department and U.S. Geological Survey officials for the latest problems and demand a halt to the Yucca Mountain project until federal investigators get to the bottom of the case.

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said the episode had pulled back the curtain "to reveal just how bankrupt and fraudulent the Yucca Mountain program may have been all along."

"The evidence is becoming overwhelming that the Yucca Mountain program is broken beyond repair," said the Republican governor.

"I would like to see someone in the Department of Energy have the guts or common decency to stand up and halt this project," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., claiming the department has misled Nevadans, Americans and the Congress. "It is not based on sound science and I think you ought to be ashamed."

But Theodore Garrish, the Energy Department's top Yucca Mountain official, said his staff plans to double-check the data and, if the department believes Yucca can be done safely, it will submit a license application to the NRC by the end of the year.

"I can assure you we will not go forward unless we have the feeling ourselves first that this repository will be safe," Garrish said.

Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have been supporters of Yucca Mountain in the past, arguing as recently as last month that building the Nevada repository would be the best way to keep the waste out of Utah.

But in recent weeks they appear to have softened their support - Bennett expressing a willingness to entertain other solutions if they are politically saleable, and Hatch insisting he had supported all along leaving the waste at the reactors that generated it.

Utah's three House members and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are squarely against both Yucca Mountain and PFS, and have said the waste should be left where it is. They note that even if PFS were thwarted, much of the waste would be shipped through Utah on its way to Yucca Mountain.

The delays in Yucca have likely already nullified a commitment six of the PFS partners made to Hatch and Bennett in 2002 not to invest in PFS if Yucca proceeds "in a timely manner."

"That was something a long time ago and it said 'Yucca moving forward on schedule,' which of course it did not. The condition of Yucca Mountain opening by 2010 is gone. It didn't happen," Parkyn said.

If plans for Yucca continue to crumble, Parkyn said he expects the Energy Department will return its focus to one of the other sites it studied in the mid-1980s as potential repositories.

The Energy Department initially studied nine possible sites for the dump, including Davis Canyon and Lavender Canyon in southeastern Utah, near Canyonlands National Park. President Reagan narrowed the focus to three - Hanford, Wash., Deaf Smith County, Texas, and Yucca Mountain - and in 1987 Congress dropped the first two from consideration.

Nielson said the state's concerns are not merely that Yucca may not open, but that , even if it does, it won't be able to hold all of the country's nuclear fuel. If reactors continue to produce waste, there could be 44,000 tons of waste left over after Yucca has been filled.

That means there would have to be a second permanent repository, or else PFS would again risk becoming a permanent home, she said.