Friday, Aug. 20, 2004 | 9:50 a.m.
ROCKVILLE, Md. -- The Energy Department has completed 79 percent of its work on the Yucca Mountain project's license application and is on track to submit the document in December, department officials told Nuclear Regulatory Commission managers Thursday.
Lingering budget questions, a pending decision from the agency's administrative court and further action from the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit all could affect the project, but the department insists it is moving ahead.
Margaret Chu, the head of the Yucca Mountain project, emphasized that the U.S. Court of Appeals' July 9 decision did not reject any of the project's science or the administration's recommendation that the federal nuclear waste repository should be placed at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The court said the 10,000-year radiation standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law since the National Academy of Sciences called for a much longer time frame.
Chu said it is "crucial to fulfill the intent of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and continue to move forward in the licensing phase." She said the department remains committed to protecting public health and safety and that it will make sure the repository meets the appropriate standards.
Nevada attorneys and other critics of the program believe the license application process should not move forward because of the court's decision, but the rule is not officially thrown out until the appeals process ends. Parties to the case have until Monday to file a request for a rehearing, but other court actions or decisions could leave the standard in place, as could an act of Congress.
Margaret Federline, deputy director of the commission's Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Security said the commission is still preparing to review an application and it is up to the Energy Department to decide "whether and when to submit a license application." She said the commission will review the document objectively. The agency is developing review teams that will take up different aspects of the project.
The department is also waiting to hear from the commission's administrative court, which will determine if the millions of documents it made public in June satisfy the license rules.
If the court sides with Nevada, the project could be delayed, the state's lawyers say, because the department would have to make more documents available and it will throw the project off schedule.