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U.S. official confident in nuclear dump bid

Bodman spoke at a news conference after the Bush administration submitted the formal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the underground storage facility at Yucca Mountain.

Nevada officials, who have fought the waste dump for years, vowed to launch hundreds of specific challenges to the proposed design of the facility, arguing the Energy Department has not proven it will protect public health, safety and the environment from radiation up to a million years.

Bodman said he's confident the scientific assessments demonstrate the 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste from the country's nuclear power plants can be stored there safely.

Edward Sproat, manager of the Yucca project, confirmed that the department now believes it may be 2020 before the waste site can be opened, assuming the NRC grants a license. And he said even that target may not be met if Congress does not provide a steady money stream.

The application prepared for the NRC still lacks a final public radiation exposure standard that establishes how protective the facility must be from radiation leakage. The NRC, which has three years to review the application, can accept it later as an amendment.

The NRC's primary job will be to determine whether the proposed repository's design will protect public health, safety and the environment for up to a million years.