Sen. Harry Reid criticized an Energy Department contract with a law firm that was hired to handle an application to operate a radioactive waste repository in Nevada.
Reid, D-Nev., said at a Senate budget hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that he wants details of the contract awarded last week to Hunton & Williams of Richmond, Va.
The firm could be paid up to $45 million over the next five years to represent the Energy Department before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Reid said the contract was excessive.
"Forty-five million for a license application? What a soft deal that is," Reid said. "And then they're paying a firm $4.5 million to do nothing."
Reid referred to an Energy Department agreement to pay $4.5 million to another firm, New York-based LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, to settle a related nuclear waste contract lawsuit.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the Hunton & Williams contract reflects "the likelihood that the licensing will be one of the most contentious that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever conducted."
The DOE plans to submit a license application to the NRC by the end of the year. It wants to open the Yucca Mountain repository in 2010 to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's most highly radioactive waste now stored at commercial and military sites in 39 states.
Hunton & Williams replaced Winston & Strawn LLP, a Chicago-based firm that quit in 2001 amid conflict allegations. Winston & Strawn had a $16.5 million contract and had spent two years on the Yucca Mountain licensing program.
Nevada has paid between $4 million and $6 million since 2001 to its nuclear waste law firm, Virginia-based Egan, Fitzpatrick, Malsch & Cynkar.
Bob Loux, director of the state's Agency for Nuclear Projects, said Nevada's legal bill for Yucca Mountain licensing matters could range from $5 million to $7 million annually for the next four to five years. He said the state was trying to recoup the money through lawsuits.