Come clean on Yucca Mountain application

The U.S. Department of Energy sounded like it was making some kind of extraordinary effort to comply with Rep. Jon Porter's request for documents relating to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.

Unfortunately, it was an extraordinary effort.

The Energy Department apparently doesn't believe its work is open to public scrutiny and has been fighting Nevada's requests to document its work. The federal agency has yet to turn over a draft of the application it must submit to the Nuclear Regular Commission in order to get a license to build and operate a nuclear storage site in Southern Nevada.

According to the state Agency for Nuclear Projects, the DOE has repeatedly denied requests - from Nevada's representatives in Congress, from the governor, from the attorney general - to make public the draft document.

What is DOE afraid of? That somebody might find out what it's doing?

The real story, we suspect, is that the Energy Department is trying to resist getting caught in the middle of a political football game. It's somewhat understandable for a government bureaucracy to want to go about its business - in this case, a highly technical application for handling the nation's most dangerous nuclear waste - without constantly having to put out a finger to test the political winds.

It's understandable, but naive. And ultimately irresponsible.

The Yucca Mountain project is nothing if not political, from its origin to the site selection in Nevada to the change in the mission of the DOE - from investigating whether the underground repository would be safe to engineering a repository that might be safe.

More troubling, however, is the idea that a bureaucracy may operate outside the scrutiny of the public and its elected officials. There is nothing generally sensitive or secretive in a licensing application. It's going to be public anyway.

Perhaps the DOE is hiding something. More likely, though, it just doesn't want to answer a lot of messy questions from Nevadans, or give the state a head start on a strategy to oppose the application. Either way, it doesn't speak well for the Energy Department's confidence in its own work.


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