WASHINGTON, DC – A law firm that has represented the nuclear industry in cases concerning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, now has been hired by the U.S. Energy Department to fight in favor of the proposed facility. This is a conflict of interest, says the Nevada congressional delegation, which is seeking an investigation into the matter.

The proposed facility, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on land owned by the federal government, would contain 70,000 metric tons of high level radioactive waste such as spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants and radioactive materials from Defense Department activities.

This highly radioactive waste is currently stored at more than 120 locations in 39 states.

Today, the Nevada congressional delegation sent a letter to Gregory Friedman, Inspector General for the Energy Department, asking him to review possible conflicts of interest in the roughly $100 million contract awarded to one of the largest U.S. law firms, Morgan, Lewis, and Bockius.

The law firm was hired to perform legal services related to licensing Yucca Mountain as the nation’s first permanent nuclear waste repository.

In the past the firm has represented clients against the Department of Energy and recently was registered to lobby on behalf of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association.

Senators Harry Reid, a Democrat who serves as Senate majority leader, and Senator John Ensign a Republican, together with Representatives Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, and Republicans Jon Porter and Dean Heller, are united in their efforts to stop Yucca Mountain from ever holding the nation’s nuclear waste.

“Clearly, there are red flags here that point to a potential conflict of interest in DOE’s hiring of Morgan Lewis, a firm with a long and active history of working for the nuclear industry,” said Berkley. “This highly lucrative new contract – which could cost taxpayers more than $100 million – deserves immediate review by the Inspector General.”

“The dump will never be built, plain and simple,” said Reid. “This is just one more attempt by the Energy Department to try to push this dying beast through the licensing process.”

The legislation designating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository has been approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. But the project has been plagued by the discovery of data falsified by employees, widespread opposition and rising costs.

“The Energy Department should not be wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on lawyers to defend a project that will never be completed,” said Reid. “Instead, we need to work toward a much safer solution of securely storing nuclear waste at the facilities where it is produced.”

“The Department of Energy has no business hiring a law firm that has ties to those who want to store waste at Yucca Mountain for a supposedly impartial role in the licensing process,” said Ensign.

“The Energy Department recognized this potential conflict of interest in the past, but in the rush to open Yucca Mountain, it has now abandoned this position,” said Berkley.

“The Energy Department’s use of taxpayer money to hire a law firm with ties to the nuclear industry is disgraceful. This is just one more blunder in DOE’s long list of errors for this fatally flawed project,” said Heller.

“The repository has been plagued by too many inconsistencies throughout its existence,” said Porter. “This additional conflict supports the delegation’s collective argument that the project must end now.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.