updated 1/19/2005 7:59:49 PM ET 2005-01-20T00:59:49

President Bush on Wednesday appointed two new members to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, including the science adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a leading opponent of a proposed nuclear waste site in the state he represents.

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Bush named Gregory Jaczko, Reid’s adviser on nuclear issues, and Peter Lyons, science adviser to Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to fill the two vacancies on the five-member commission.

Reid has fought for years to keep the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site out of Nevada. Domenici, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is among its staunchest supporters.

Lyons was named to the NRC after retired Vice Adm. Albert Konetzni withdrew his name from consideration. Bush had nominated Konetzni to the NRC last year, but Reid blocked his nomination — and scores of other Bush nominations — until he received assurance that Jaczko’s nomination would go through.

Reid has called Jaczko “eminently qualified” and said he “has the background and experience necessary to evaluate information objectively.”

Recess appointments bypass Senate
A deal brokered in November cleared the way for recess appointments of Jaczko and Konetzni to the NRC. Such appointments do not require a Senate hearing.

In recent weeks, Konetzni, a Republican, expressed second thoughts about the NRC post when it became apparent he would not be elevated to chairman later this year. The current chairman, Republican Nils Diaz, has made it clear he wants to remain chairman through his term, which ends in July 2006.

Some Senate Republicans and the nuclear industry had opposed Jaczko’s nomination, fearing he would work to further Reid’s desire to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Reid, the top Democrat in the new Senate, has been its strongest voice against the Yucca project and has fought for years to block it or limit its funding.

Domenici hailed Lyons’ appointment. “His experience and expertise on nuclear matters is unsurpassed,” said Domenici. Lyons, a nuclear physicist, spent 28 years at the federal Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Since 1997 he has worked as an adviser to Domenici on technology and science issues.

By law, three of the five commissioners at the NRC must be of the same party as the president. The commission currently has two Republican members and one Democratic member.

The NRC is expected to begin considering a license for the Yucca Mountain facility later this year. The licensing process is expected to take at least three years.

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