LAS VEGAS A law firm hired to help the Energy Department get a license for a nuclear waste dump in Nevada failed to disclose a relationship with a pro-dump lobbying firm, the department's inspector general found.
At least 14 members of the Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn working on the $16.5 million government contract also worked for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying firm that supports the Yucca Mountain project, reported DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman, who stopped short of declaring the relationship a conflict of interest.
But Nevada's two U.S. senators, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign, said the report documents "rampant conflict of interest violations" that contaminated 17 years of study of the Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
State officials and the Nevada congressional delegation oppose the proposed dump, which would store radioactive waste from about 100 nuclear sites nationwide.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., has lobbied to promote the use of nuclear power and favors the Yucca Mountain site. It is the only site under study by the government to dispose of the nation's nuclear waste.
In his report, Friedman said Winston & Strawn denied a conflict of interest and denied it compromised work on the Yucca Mountain project.
James Thompson, Winston & Strawn chairman and former Illinois governor, referred questions to spokesman Chuck Connor at the Dilen Schneider Group in Chicago, who wouldn't comment.
Connor also wouldn't comment on recent allegations that Winston & Strawn leaked to the Energy Department a confidential document outlining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's standards for approving the project.
Reid called last week for Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General Hubert T. Bell to investigate that allegation. It was not addressed in Friedman's report.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said Thursday that Winston & Strawn is still working for the Energy Department, and the department would study Friedman's findings.
"It's important to note," Davis said, "that the report found no evidence that the work performed by Winston & Strawn created an improper bias in the department's scientific evaluation of Yucca Mountain."
The site selection process is in its final weeks, but officials said Friedman's report opens the licensing process to a possible legal challenge.
© 2001 The Associated Press