Nevada report alleges bias in Yucca Mountain waste dump evaluation

LAS VEGAS — A report from a state agency to Nevada’s incoming Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval charges bias by federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff members and urges elected lawmakers to continue to back the 25-year fight against plans to entomb the nation’s radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

A report approved by the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects alleges “inappropriate interactions and relationships” between NRC staff members and the federal Department of Energy officials preparing plans for the Yucca Mountain repository. It accuses regulatory commission staffers of “abandoning a key ethical principle” and “complicity” in setting radiation emission standards for the project.

“Nevada certainly cannot rely on the NRC or the NRC’s staff to impartially and objectively evaluate DOE’s license application and its wildly optimistic conclusions regarding the site’s suitability and safety,” it said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said Tuesday that he hadn’t seen the 44-page report approved by the seven-member commission on Monday. He declined immediate comment.

The document notes that no final decision has been made whether the Yucca Mountain project lives or dies.

“This is just the very beginning of the fight over the safety issues,” Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects chief Robert Halstead said Tuesday.

State lawmakers in August allocated almost $1.4 million to continue legal and technical work ahead of expected Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings on the proposed repository. Halstead said he expects to make similar funding requests for the next two years.

The Energy Department spent more than two decades and tens of billions of dollars studying the geologic suitability of transporting and burying about 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive spent nuclear fuel beneath an ancient volcanic ridge at the edge of a vast former nuclear proving ground now called the Nevada National Security Site.

Congress approved the location in 2002 as a deep geologic repository, despite opponents’ claims that it would be more dangerous to move and handle radioactive waste currently stored at 100 nuclear reactors in 31 states than to keep the waste at its current locations.

The Yucca project was mothballed in 2010 after Barack Obama was elected president and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., became Senate majority leader. Congress withdrew funding, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspended licensing work.

Halstead noted that Yucca Mountain licensing proceedings are coming, and a shift to Republican control of Congress following elections earlier this month could boost calls to resume funding the project.

A federal appeals court ruled last year the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must either approve or reject the Energy Department’s request for a license to open the repository.

Officials have said a full slate of licensing hearings could take at least three years.


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