October 31, 2001

The Honorable Hubert T. Bell
Inspector General
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Mailstop T5 D28
Washington, DC 20555

Dear Mr. Bell:

I am writing in relation to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissionís (NRC) plan for reviewing a potential license application for a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain by the Department of Energy (DOE). As the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety, which has jurisdiction over the NRC, I am interested in ensuring the NRC and DOE maintain the highest level of integrity during this process. I have been told that a draft of the Licensing Review Plan for the project has been released prematurely. Such a release would seriously undermine the credibility of both the NRC and DOE, and likely is in violation of NRC and DOE rules and applicable laws.

This issue was brought to my attention by two independent sources. According to the information provided, the draft License Review Plan was apparently released to the law firm of Winston & Strawn, which then purportedly provided it to the DOE's Yucca Mountain contractor in Nevada. I understand this document describes the process the NRC will follow to review a potential license application for the Yucca Mountain repository. Furthermore, the NRC has refused to provide a copy of this document to representatives of the State of Nevada, who have responsibility for overseeing the Yucca Mountain project.

The NRC has a responsibility to provide information to all stakeholders on a timely and equitable basis. Releasing a draft of this application to the legal firm representing the DOE in the Yucca Mountain project would appear to be unethical.

I request that you initiate an investigation into this matter immediately. Specifically, a review of the following is requested:

  1. Which NRC staff are involved in developing and preparing the License Review Plan? What programs does the NRC have in place to ensure these documents are not released inappropriately? What staff, if any, outside the NRC are involved in developing this document? Did the law firm of Winston & Strawn obtain a draft of the License Review Plan? If so, who provided them with a copy? In what manner? Did Winston & Strawn then provide this document to the Department of Energy, any of its contractors, or its in-house lawyers?

  2. Has the Department of Energy, any of its contractors, or any of its in-house lawyers obtained a copy of the draft document? If so, how did they obtain that copy?

  3. Were requests made to the NRC by other stakeholders, such as the State of Nevada, for access to this document? If so, what information, if any, did the NRC provide to these stakeholders? Were they able to obtain copies of the draft? If it was prematurely released and they were unable to obtain it, why not?

The effort to study the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain has been characterized by a process that fails to consider the strong opposition of the residents of Nevada. If the Yucca Mountain project moves to the licensing phase, it is crucial that the NRC maintain its independence and the impression of its independence from the DOE. By possibly releasing this License Review Plan, the NRC may have significantly diminished its impartiality. I urge you to investigate this matter immediately and take any necessary corrective action. If you have any questions about my request, please contact me or have your staff contact Dr. Gregory Jaczko at (202) 224-3783.

I appreciate your consideration of my request and look forward to hearing from you.



U.S. Senator

cc: The Honorable Gregory H. Friedman, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy