Recommendation to make Yucca Mountain nation's nuke waste dump may be postponed

LAS VEGAS - A federal investigation into the Energy Department's ties to the nuclear industry could delay a recommendation to make Yucca Mountain the nation's nuclear waste repository.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who asked the Energy Department's inspector general to conduct the probe, said there's ''no chance'' the recommendation will be made on schedule in June.

''Knowing how things work around here, the investigation won't be done for months,'' Reid said Friday. ''The longer the DOE waits, the better off we are.''

Bob Loux, Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects executive director, agreed.

''I don't think they'll recommend the site this summer,'' Loux said. ''If the decision is made in June, it will be purely a political decision and not a scientific one.''

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., expects the proponents of Yucca Mountain, the only site under study to bury 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste, will ''do everything they can to provide a recommendation on schedule.''

The decision is expected to be made by the still-unnamed energy secretary in the new Bush administration.

Earlier this month, Reid, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, asked for an investigation into whether the DOE had shown bias in the selection process involving Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson asked the inspector general to look at the ''apparent bias'' of chief contractor, TRW Environmental Safety Systems Inc.

The investigation came after a Dec. 1 Las Vegas Sun story revealed documents suggesting the DOE was collaborating behind the scenes with the nuclear industry to recommend Yucca Mountain.

Federal law prohibits the DOE from taking sides in the selection process.

A 60-page draft of a DOE overview concluded Yucca Mountain was a safe site to store the radioactive waste even though a massive scientific study had not been completed. Attached to the overview was a two-page memo from TRW that suggested the overview could be used by Yucca supporters to sell the project to Congress.

Richardson said earlier this month that the inspector general's investigation will delay the release of a the 1,500-page Site Recommendation Consideration Report, which was supposed to be given to Congress this month.

Richardson has pledged that any recommendation of Yucca Mountain will be ''based on sound science.''


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