Call for Investigation over Nuclear Dump Site in Nevada

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada has petitioned to get Sandia
National Laboratories investigated for what the state's attorney
general described Tuesday as a focus on deadlines over safety and
accuracy in doing analyses for a proposed high-level nuclear waste

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto also told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering licensing for the federal Department of Energy dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, that New Mexico-based Sandia should be barred from further Yucca project
work for the DOE.

A Sandia spokesman defended the lab's work which was questioned
in the petition, the latest in a long list of moves by Nevada officials to prevent the DOE from using the dump to store high-level radioactive waste from around the country.

Cortez Masto said in the petition to the NRC that the state found documents that showed, among other things, that the Sandia official responsible for Yucca Mountain scientific analyses told employees they'd be "all out of a job" unless they met the DOE's schedule for license-filing by June 30.

The attorney general said the official told staffers that Sandia's priorities for completing the analyses sought by the DOE ere "schedule, defensibility and credibility - in that order."

"This attitude is utterly incompatible with the dictates of nuclear safety," Cortez Masto said, adding that putting safety at the bottom of the priority list "is a recipe for disaster."

Sandia spokesman Michael Padilla said the lab is "confident in the integrity of its work and its management of this effort." Padilla added the Sandia team "will be pleased in 2008 to defend the license application and its technical basis."

"The transparency and quality of the technical basis provided in part by Sandia will enable the NRC to openly and fairly evaluate the safety of the proposed repository," he said.

The federal government is mandated by law to dispose of the nation's nuclear waste, and the Energy Department was supposed to open the Nevada site by 1998. But the Yucca Mountain project has been slowed by lawsuits, quality control concerns and funding shortfalls.

Project officials have pushed back the target date for opening to 2017 or later. The project's cost has climbed from a $57.5 billion estimate in 2001 to more than $77 billion.

Federal law limits the dump to 77,000 tons of such waste, although the DOE now is proposing to double that amount.

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