EPA ombudsman might open Yucca Mountain probe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

EPA ombudsman might open Yucca Mountain probe

LAS VEGAS (AP) – The Environmental Protection Agency’s national ombudsman said he might investigate Nevada complaints about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Bob Martin said Monday that if he has jurisdiction he can seek documents, reopen decision records and make nonbinding recommendations to the EPA.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., asked Martin to review whether radiation standards were set properly for the proposed repository at the edge of the Nevada Test Site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Martin met Monday in Las Vegas with state Nuclear Projects Agency chief Bob Loux, representatives from Clark County, several environmental groups and a physicist from UNLV’s Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies.

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation’s radioactive commercial and military nuclear waste in alloy metal containers 1,000 feet beneath the volcanic mountain. Yucca Mountain is the only site in the U.S. under study as a repository.

The Energy Department is expected by next year to make its recommendation on the site to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Abraham will make a recommendation to President Bush. 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.

The Environmental Protection Agency this month set a standard of 15 millirem per year for total radiation exposure around the site. A separate 4 millirem per year radiation limit was set for groundwater. A standard chest X-ray uses 10 millirem or less.

The standards were more stringent than a 25 millirem guideline that had been suggested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency with licensing responsibility for the Yucca Mountain project.

The radiation measuring point – 11 miles from Yucca Mountain – is closer than the 12-mile buffer that project scientists anticipated.

Nevertheless, the standards were criticized by proponents and opponents of the project, including Berkley.

Martin said he might be able to probe Yucca Mountain complaints because the mountain has been assigned a hazardous waste identification number.

Yucca Mountain Project spokesman Allen Benson said the identification number stems from industrial petroleum products used at the site, not the nuclear waste proposed for storage there.

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