Battle Shaping Up Over Information in Yucca Mountain Database

Battle lines are being drawn in a dispute over whether the Energy Department is providing complete information about plans to open and operate a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

The state and 13 environmental groups say the government hasn't met requirements for posting information on a key database before it applies to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an operating license for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository.

The Energy Department calls that claim unfounded and off-base. It's backed by the pro-repository Nuclear Energy Institute and NRC staff members.

The dispute has been aired in legal documents filed recently for consideration by a three-judge Nuclear Regulatory Commission administrative panel.

Lawyers have clashed off and on for three years over the ground rules for reviewing millions of pages of documents relating to the government's bid to license the repository at the Yucca site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The Energy Department plans to submit a license application to the NRC by next June 30.

Leading to that, the government says it has posted 3.4 million documents to a pre-licensing database made available to the state and other stakeholders preparing for Nuclear Regulatory Commission license hearings.

The database, known as the Licensing Support Network, is required to be certified at least six months before DOE files its application.

Nevada attorneys filed an complaint with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission this summer saying that the Energy Department was likely
to omit important documents, such as analysis model reports that would serve as the building blocks for the license application. The application itself is a highly technical document that will run thousands of pages.

Without access to key documents and time to review supporting material, state officials argue it will be difficult for Nevada to challenge the project in license hearings.

"Those are the documents that everyone needs to see in advance," said Bob Loux, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, the state's anti-dump office. "Otherwise, the whole LSN is pointless."

Nevada wants the administrative judges to scrutinize the Energy Department database and require "all documentary material" to be posted.

Other advocacy groups that oppose the Yucca Mountain plan echoed
the state's request in an Aug. 3 filing with the commission.

They included the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the
National Environmental Trust, Sierra Club, Citizen Alert, Public Citizen, and the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force.

The Energy Department responded in an Aug. 3 filing that Nevada was being "alarmist" and that what the state wanted was impractical.

The Nuclear Energy Institute added that Nevada's request was "far wide of the mark" of what NRC requires and "in fact is inconsistent with common sense."

Government lawyers maintained that development of a licensing application was an ongoing process, and the department would continue to generate supporting documents up to the time it submits its application.

"There is a wealth of information currently available for the participants to review," they said. "This is not a situation where a participant has deliberately delayed finalization of documents."

The Energy Department hopes by 2017 to open the repository to hold 77,000 tons or more of the nation's most highly radioactive nuclear waste for 10,000 years and beyond.

Congress approved the project in 2002, but progress toward applying for a license has been delayed by legal challenges, money shortages, scientific controversies and political opposition.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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