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Exclusive: Congress watchdog warns NRC on documents
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top congressional watchdog is warning the U.S. nuclear safety regulator to hand over documents by Thursday about its role in shutting down work on Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump site, or face subpoenas for the information.
With the sternly worded threat, Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, stepped up the pressure on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which some Republicans have accused of acting politically in helping to stop work on the controversial Yucca dump.
"We have substantial issues with the Commission's response to our request for documents," Issa said in a letter dated Friday.
"If the NRC continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to cooperate fully with the Committee's investigation, we will be required to consider the use of compulsory process," Issa, a Republican from California, said.
The NRC is trying to give the committee documents "in a timely fashion," said Eliot Brenner, a spokesman.
"The NRC has been providing the Committee with requested materials for several weeks now even as we deal with the Japan reactor issues and maintain our focus on our critical day-to-day safety responsibilities," Brenner said.
The deadline falls in a week where the future of the U.S. nuclear industry is under intense scrutiny as it grapples with how to move past the disaster that crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant in March.
Industry leaders will gather in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the future. An NRC task force looking at the safety of the 104 U.S. plants is slated to deliver its first report to the agency's commissioners on Thursday.
And on Friday, an expert "blue ribbon" panel convened by the Obama administration to look for alternatives to the Yucca dump will discuss draft recommendations for how to handle radioactive waste.
Congress decided to build a permanent storage site for nuclear waste deep inside Yucca Mountain about 25 years ago. Nevada residents -- including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- have fought the project ever since.
The Obama administration stopped work on the site shortly after taking office. But Republicans and many Democrats in Congress would like to see the site revived.
Issa's committee launched a probe of the NRC's role in ending work on Yucca on March 11 -- by coincidence, the day an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant and the pools that hold its spent fuel rods.
Japanese authorities are still struggling to get the site under control.
The accident has put focus on waste stored in pools at U.S. plants, with lawmakers questioning whether a more permanent solution would be safer.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also investigating the Yucca shutdown.
NRC GRILLED ON THE HILL
Gregory Jazcko, chairman of the independent NRC, has been grilled at three House hearings since March by lawmakers who accused him of acting politically on the Yucca issue.
Jazcko, a top aide to Harry Reid before being named to the commission, has denied any political intent.
Issa's committee asked for timelines of NRC decisions and discussions on the matter, as well as documents and e-mails about the Yucca issue from the past year.
The committee has received some of what it asked for, including an internal safety review. Other documents have not been forthcoming, but Issa's letter did not specify which items have not been received.
The committee extended its original April 1 deadline twice, recognizing the pressure the NRC was under due to the Japan disaster.
"Although we have attempted to accommodate the NRC's need for additional time, the continued delay in completing this request is unacceptable," Issa wrote.
(Editing by Alden Bentley and Jim Marshall)
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