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NRC Wants Yucca Mountain License Work Finished by Sept. 30

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, deadlocked on whether to move ahead with a nuclear-waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, directed an agency licensing board to complete work on the matter by Sept. 30.

“The commission finds itself evenly divided on” whether to overturn or uphold a decision by the board last year blocking the Energy Department from withdrawing its request for a license.

President Barack Obama’s administration, which opposes the Yucca project, sought in 2010 to withdraw the government’s application to build the proposed repository, located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Las Vegas. Industry and government have collectively spent about $15 billion on the project so far. Most used commercial nuclear fuel is stored at power plants.

Citing “budgetary limitations,” commissioners today directed the licensing board to finish all pending tasks and document the full history of the proceeding by the end of the current fiscal year. “By Sept. 30, the agency’s orderly closure” of the licensing review “should be complete,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Republicans have said NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who has led the commission since May 2009, halted the agency’s work on the proposed repository for political reasons, which he has denied. Jaczko is a former science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and longtime opponent of the Yucca project.

‘Cold Storage’

The difficulty of meeting the commission’s deadline may prompt the licensing board to suspend its work, Ellen Ginsberg, vice president and general counsel for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group said.

A suspension would effectively put progress on the license “into cold storage,” she said in an interview.

“We have a very narrow role in the whole Yucca Mountain debate,” Jaczko said in an interview Sept. 7. “Our job is ultimately to ensure that whatever options are proposed meet safety and security standards.”

A House subcommittee will “continue its ongoing investigation into the Obama administration’s politically motivated efforts to terminate the Yucca Mountain” waste site, the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce committee said in a statement Sept. 6.

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