The head of a panel of scientists reviewing plans for a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada is quitting, telling President Bush that allegations of conflict of interest are hampering the board's work.
One Nevada lawmaker opposed to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository welcomed the departure of Michael Corradini from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, saying he "displayed a wanton disregard for impartiality."
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., issued a statement Wednesday faulting Corradini for saying nuclear waste can be safely stored in Nevada while the state disputes the safety of the project.
Corradini, in a letter sent Tuesday to the White House, made his resignation from the 10-member appointed panel effective Jan. 12. He declined comment Wednesday.
"It is my view that I do not have a conflict of interest," his letter said, "nor are my professional activities as a university professor and researcher in nuclear reactor safety a source of potential conflicts of interest."
Corradini, chairman of the physics engineering department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was appointed by Bush in June 2002 to head the panel of academic experts in engineering, geology, materials science and ecology.
Corradini wrote that since he became chairman, board staff and members have had to respond to inquiries about perceived conflicts of interest.
"These distractions have ... diverted us from our proper oversight role," he said.
The Nevada congressional delegation had called for Corradini's removal, saying he could not be objective. The state's five federal lawmakers sent a letter to the White House in February saying his appointment to the board "seriously undermined" trust in the board's credibility.
Conflict of interest questions came up again in October, after Corradini co-wrote an opinion piece for a Wisconsin newspaper saying that storing waste at Yucca Mountain could be done safely.
Angered, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to block $3.2 million in federal funding to the board funding based on that comment.
The board monitors how the Energy Department is performing on technical aspects of the Yucca Mountain Project and reports its findings to Congress.
The Energy Department wants to open the Yucca Mountain repository in 2010. The plan calls for shipping 77,000 tons of the nation's highest high-level radioactive waste to Nevada and entombing it in mined tunnels 1,000 feet below the surface of the site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Nevada officials argue that crucial safety issues remain unanswered.
Both sides are preparing for oral arguments in federal court next month.
On the Net:
Yucca Mountain project: http://www.ymp.gov/
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/
Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board: http://www.nwtrb.gov