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DOE Misses Deadline on Nuclear Waste Dump; Agency Disregard for Statutory Requirements a Cause for Concern

Oct. 22, 2002

DOE Misses Deadline on Nuclear Waste Dump; Agency Disregard for Statutory Requirements a Cause for Concern

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) inability to meet a deadline to file a license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository demonstrates that the agency’s site recommendation was premature and incomplete, Public Citizen said today. The group sent a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations committees drawing attention to the matter and expressing concern about the project’s bloated budget for the coming year.

“The DOE’s apparent disregard for process does not inspire confidence,” Public Citizen wrote. “We urge Appropriators to rigorously review the FY 2003 funding request for Yucca Mountain and stop wasting taxpayer and ratepayer money on this runaway project.”

After Congress gave a vote of approval for the Yucca Mountain project, President Bush on July 23 designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site for the world’s first high-level nuclear waste repository. To proceed with construction, the DOE must now obtain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, a 1982 law from which the DOE derives its mandate for the Yucca Mountain project, specifies that the energy secretary must submit a license application to the NRC “not later than 90 days” after a site is selected.

Although this 90-day deadline expired Monday, DOE’s own timelines suggest that the agency will not be ready to apply for a license until the end of 2004 at the earliest due to incomplete studies and unresolved technical issues. These include the lack of both a specific repository design and a plan for transporting nuclear waste to Nevada. The 90-day window implies that DOE was to submit a much more detailed and complete site recommendation for congressional consideration.

“The Secretary of Energy was fully aware that the agency was years away from completing a license application, yet he forced Congress to act prematurely on an incomplete site recommendation,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The agency does not appear to be acting in good faith.”

The original FY 2003 budget request for the Yucca Mountain Project was $524.7 million – up 40 percent from FY 2002. A supplemental request from the DOE added another $66 million. The House and Senate have yet to vote on appropriations packages.