RENO, Nev. (AP) -- About 75 demonstrators marched into a meeting room Thursday to protest the latest round of federal hearings on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.
Waving placards and chanting "no dump, no way," protesters entered the room during a short break of a U.S. Energy Department hearing on the proposed site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Protest organizer Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada climbed atop a table near the speaker's podium and addressed the crowd.
"They (federal officials) haven't listened to us so far, so maybe they'll understand this," he said. "We give no credence to their sham hearings or their sham project. Dump your plan and not your waste."
Shortly after protesters erupted in cheers, the hearing resumed and demonstrators and others were allowed to testify.
Representatives of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn joined in the criticism against the new round of federal hearings and the Yucca Mountain site itself.
They said the hearings shouldn't be held now because the DOE hasn't finalized an environmental impact statement on the site, and the nation is still grieving from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.
They also complained that Nevadans were given inadequate notice of the hearings. On Friday, the DOE announced plans to hold new hearings in all 17 Nevada counties.
Most Reno-area residents who testified also spoke out against the dump, contending it poses safety hazards that haven't been addressed by DOE.
Paul Harrington, the lone DOE official to preside over the hearing, declined comment on the criticism afterward.
At an earlier rally staged outside the hearing room by the Citizen Alert environmental group, Fulkerson urged protestors to "blow the walls off the hearing room" with comments against the dump.
"We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," he said. "The time to be polite is over. There's a lot at stake."
The DOE has been studying Yucca Mountain for more than 20 years to determine its suitability as a repository for the nation's high-level radioactive waste.
With Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham expected to soon make a recommendation on the site to President Bush, opponents plan to step up protests, Fulkerson said.
"Whenever your back is against the wall, you utilize actions you kept as a final resort. I'm talking about civil disobedience and other acts," Fulkerson said.
John Hadder of Citizen Alert agreed opponents are ready to take their protests "to the next level."
"This whole thing is scandalous and immoral and unjust," he said. "We're hearing from people who are saying they're ready to get out there and block trucks."
The Yucca Mountain project would require thousands of nuclear waste shipments on roads and railways across the country.
Some residents said they were concerned the dump and shipments could become a target of terrorists.
"Putting all the waste in one spot is like putting a big red target out for a bull," Laura Link said. "To prevent tragedies, we should keep the waste in the states where it's generated and go to new technologies."
But Bob Taylor said he thinks it would be safer to store the waste at Yucca Mountain. More than 75,000 tons of nuclear waste is now stored at about 70 sites across the country.
"Yucca Mountain is on the Nevada Test Site and security is very good there," he said. "I think we would be better off to get it moved to a secure place like that."