The Energy Department intends to meet its 2010 deadline for opening a nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert, although a Nuclear Regulatory Commission member called that deadline unrealistic.
"We believe we can get a license to the NRC and ... get waste emplaced in 2010," Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said.
NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan said any changes after the DOE submits its application next year for the Yucca Mountain repository could push the licensing process back to square one.
McGaffigan is one of five commission members who will decide whether and when the national nuclear waste repository opens. He said 2015 was a more realistic target.
"It's almost a fact," he told a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste in Rockville, Md. "2010 is just about impossible."
McGaffigan noted that the Energy Department has indicated it might add items to its license application after it is submitted to the NRC.
Reading from NRC regulations, he said the rules are not flexible.
"This is a naive notion of the DOE officials," McGaffigan told the committee Thursday. "Our process does not allow for an, 'Oops we changed our minds.'"
Davis insisted the Energy Department would not submit a license application containing uncertainties.
"It will be a design plan that meets regulatory and environmental requirements," the Energy Department spokesman said.
The Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was approved last year by Congress and President Bush. Energy Department plans call for entombing 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive commercial, industrial and commercial waste.
Once the Energy Department submits its application, the NRC has three years to review it.