DOE Reviewing Documents NRC Wants on Nuke Dump

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The Energy Department has begun a broad review of Yucca Mountain project technical documents after auditors said shortcomings could delay Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing for the national nuclear waste dump.

About 100 workers at the Office of Repository Development in Las Vegas are checking documents before filing the formal application to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste at the Nevada site beginning in 2010, officials said Wednesday.

The review is expected to take two or three months, delaying some Energy Department groundwork for filing a license application to the NRC in December, Timothy C. Gunther, a project manager, said in Washington.

Also in Washington, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed to block any Senate Environment and Public Works Committee business until one of his aides gets a hearing to fill an open position on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"I am not going to let anything else move, period, until we get a hearing date set on Greg Jaczko," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

The White House nominated Jaczko, a Democrat, in February for the commission, which regulates nuclear power plants and will decide whether the Energy Department will get a license to operate the Yucca Mountain repository.

Reid had held up dozens of other administration nominations, including Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, until the administration nominated Jaczko.

The Energy Department plans to submit information to the NRC by the end of August on 125 outstanding technical questions about how effectively the repository will contain the nation's high-level nuclear waste.

But Gunther told a NRC advisory board that on several key repository performance questions, the Energy Department will ask NRC staff to accept partial reports in August with a promise that complete paperwork will follow later in the year.

The new review comes after an NRC team evaluated a sample of Energy Department technical documents during visits to Las Vegas in November, December and January.

Auditors said in a report made public last week that some documents were unclear or lacked adequate background necessary for the commission to judge the repository, planned 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

An Energy Department internal review found similar problems, Gunther told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after his presentation to the NRC's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste.

"A light bulb went off that we weren't meeting NRC's expectations" for document preparation, Gunther said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said they will continue to work with the Energy Department as information is made available.

"The schedule is the schedule, and we're working within those constraints," NRC evaluator Tim McCartin told the advisory board.


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