US: Bush administration files nuclear dump application

-- Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Tuesday he's confident the
government's license application to build a nuclear waste dump in
Nevada will "stand up to any challenge anywhere."

Bodman spoke at
a news conference hours after the Bush administration submitted the
formal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license
to build the underground storage facility at Yucca Mountain more than
80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Nevada officials, who have
fought the waste dump for years, vowed to launch hundreds of specific
challenges to the proposed design of the facility, arguing the Energy
Department has not proven it will protect public health, safety and the
environment from radiation up to a million years.

Responding to
the filing, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons reiterated his promise to fight the
waste dump which he said "threatens the life and safety of the people
of Nevada."

"As long as I am governor, the state will continue to
do everything it can to stop Yucca Mountain from becoming reality," he
said in a statement. Bodman called the application submission "a big
day" for moving the stalled project forward and said he's confident the
scientific assessments demonstrate the 77,000 tons of highly
radioactive waste from the country's nuclear power plants can be stored
there safely.

"Issues of health safety and security have been
paramount during this process. ... (They) are the driving factors in
the decisions we have made," said Bodman.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
of Nevada, a vocal opponent, said in a statement he and other Nevada
lawmakers "will continue working ... to kill the dump" which most
Nevada's don't want in their state. In recent years Congress has
repeatedly cut Yucca project funding in part because of Reid's strong

Edward F. Sproat, manager of the Yucca project,
confirmed that the department now believes it may be 2020 before the
waste site can be opened, assuming the NRC grants a license. And he
said even that target may not me met if Congress does not provide a
steady money stream.

A truck delivered tens of thousands of pages
of documents to the NRC's office in Rockville, Md., earlier in the day.
The application itself covers 17 volumes and 8,600 pages and is
supported by more than 200 other documents and studies.

But a key document is missing.

application prepared for the NRC still lacks a final public radiation
exposure standard that establishes how protective the facility must be
from radiation leakage. The EPA had issued a standard designed to be
protective for 10,000 years.

But a federal court said it was
inadequate and that agency must establish a standard shown to be
protective for up to 1 million years _ the time some of the isotopes in
the waste will remain dangerous. The EPA has yet to produce that

Bodman said he didn't think that was a problem. The
NRC, which has three years to review the application, can accept it
later as an amendment but must have it to make its final determination.

NRC's primary job will be to determine whether the proposed
repository's design will protect public health, safety and the
environment for up to a million years.

NRC Chairman Dale Klein
promised a review "entirely on technical merits" and said the agency
"will perform an independent, rigorous and thorough examination to
determine whether the repository can safely house the nation's high
level waste."

If the application is approved, it will take seven to eight years to build the facility, Sproat said.

Bush gave the go-ahead for the Yucca waste repository six years ago. It
is being designed to hold 77,000 tons of waste, mostly used reactor
fuel from nuclear power plants.

About $6 billion has been spent
in research and engineering at the Nevada site, including construction
of a tunnel deep into the volcanic rock where the canisters of used
reactor fuel are to be placed. The Energy Department estimates the
lifetime cost of the facility will be between $70 billion and $80

The federal government under a 1982 law is contractually
required to accept the spent fuel from commercial power plants and was
to have had a central repository available for fuel shipments by 1998,
a deadline already a decade overdue.

This year Congress provided
$386.5 million for the program, $108 million less than the Bush
administration had wanted as it geared up for submitting its
application for a construction license. In 2007 the project received
$444 million.

Reid and other Nevada officials say the waste ought
to stay where it is until the best long-term solution for dealing with
it can be determined.


Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Yucca Mountain Project:

Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects:

© 2008 The Associated Press
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