Yucca Mountain officials cleared in probe

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WASHINGTON -- An internal investigation has cleared government officials accused of unlawfully excluding Nevada representatives from discussions and meetings on the Yucca Mountain project.

Hubert T. Bell, inspector general for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the contacts between NRC officials and counterparts at the Energy Department were deemed proper at the end of an investigation in December.

Bell said communications "occurred during informal meetings" in accordance with the licensing process for the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The sessions "were consistent with NRC regulatory requirements and policy mandates," Bell said.

He disclosed the outcome of the investigation during testimony Thursday to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel met to review the workings of the NRC.

The inspector general initiated an investigation after fielding a complaint in September from Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.

Del Papa said Nevada officials were becoming aware of meetings between Energy Department and NRC staff members where Yucca Mountain agreements seemed to be taking shape out of the presence of Nevada representatives.

Federal rules allow the two agencies to "confer informally" as the Energy Department prepares a repository license application to be judged by the NRC, an independent regulatory agency. Nevada and other interested groups are to be given advance notice of meetings and copies of letters and other materials.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who also complained in the fall, said federal rules should be altered to require Nevada participation in every Yucca Mountain matter.

"While they say it may not violate a law or regulation, perhaps we ought to look at the laws and regulations and change them," Berkley said.


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