Energy secretary nominee sees end of '05 date for Yucca license application

LAS VEGAS - The Energy Department intends to submit a license application by the end of 2005 to open a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada, according to President Bush's nominee for energy secretary.

Samuel Bodman's comments on a Yucca Mountain timetable came in response to questions from members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during confirmation proceedings in Washington, D.C.

The committee recommended approval for Bodman's nomination to replace Spencer Abraham as energy secretary. The full Senate is expected to quickly confirm Bodman. He currently serves as deputy secretary of the Treasury Department.

The Energy Department missed a self-imposed December 2004 date to submit a Yucca license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The department has yet to complete a requirement that millions of pages of supporting documents be accessible at an NRC online database, the Licensing Support Network.

The Energy Department wants to open the Yucca Mountain repository by 2010.

Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the energy committee, noted the department also needs time to respond to a July federal court ruling that threw out a crucial Environmental Protection Agency radiation health safety standard.

For the Yucca project to go forward, the EPA must set a new standard or Congress could consider a law creating a less strict radiation standard than one recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would block such a law, Domenici said.

Energy Department officials have said they plan to announce a new Yucca Mountain project timeline next month.

"It is the department's responsibility to make sure that the repository will comply with whatever standard emerges from the EPA's ongoing process," Bodman said in written response to questions from the committee. "My first priority will be the protection of the health and safety of the citizens of Nevada and the rest of the country."


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