Energy Department plans nuclear dump recommendation by December |

Energy Department plans nuclear dump recommendation by December

LAS VEGAS (AP) – The Energy Department remains committed to making a recommendation this fall on whether Yucca Mountain is suitable as the nation’s high-level nuclear waste repository.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham plans to deliver his recommendation to President Bush some time from October to December, even though scientific studies are incomplete and three lawsuits are pending, department spokesman Joe Davis said.

The lack of a final design for entombing 77,000 tons of radioactive waste at the edge of the Nevada Test Site, 90 miles north of Las Vegas, also won’t derail the process, DOE senior policy analyst Abraham Van Luik said.

”This fall the decision is whether it passes or fails,” Van Luik told the Las Vegas Sun.

Critics of the project, including Nevada’s top official reviewing the Yucca Mountain proposal, say the Energy Department has missed self-imposed deadlines in the past.

”If they proceed without enough information to satisfy the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), they may be at risk for another delay,” said Robert Loux, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

”The DOE is being hit from all sides by everybody who is reviewing its Yucca Mountain work,” he said.

The Energy Department originally planned to open a Yucca Mountain repository in 1998. The agency has spent almost $7 billion studying the site since 1982.

Since Nevada is expected to oppose the plan, the question of whether the repository is built will likely be decided by Congress. The earliest it could open would be 2010.

Congress has trimmed up to $100 million from the department’s budget each year since 1995. The cuts caused project managers to delay completing onsite studies and analyses that could be used in the licensing process, Energy Department officials have said.

The site recommendation was expected last December, but an Energy Department inspector general’s probe of allegations of departmental bias in the site-selection process pushed that date back.

In April, investigators said there was no evidence that the department was biased toward the site. However, they warned department officials to avoid any appearance of favoring Yucca Mountain.

Another possible delay came after the Environmental Protection Agency issued new radiation exposure limits for the project last month.

The nuclear industry sued the EPA, and last week the state of Nevada and a coalition of environmental organizations also filed lawsuits.

Meanwhile, scientists serving on the independent Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and an international scientific review panel are pushing the DOE for more information concerning ground water contamination and movement, seismic activity and volcanic eruptions.

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