NRC chairman cleared on Yucca Mountain decision

09 June 2011

The chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had the authority to end the licensing review for the Yucca Mountain repository, an independent review has found. Another report concludes that there was no scientific basis to the Obama Administration's decision to terminate the project.


Yucca Mountain - aerial
Yucca Mountain (Image: DoE)
In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which was meant to give the USA a solid policy for the final disposal of its high-level wastes from military, research and power generation activities. For the power business this means used fuel from nuclear power plants. The program progressed to look for two repository sites - one in the west and one in the east - until another act of Congress in 2002 directed the Department of Energy (DoE) to only consider the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.


At that point great opposition arose in the state, which seemed to have succeeded in shelving Yucca Mountain when President Barack Obama came to power in 2009 declaring that Yucca Mountain was "not an option." Obama's energy secretary Stephen Chu soon filed to withdraw the application to build the facility, cut funding and abandoned the entire program in search of a better one. The DoE has claimed Yucca Mountain is "not workable" and that "alternatives will better serve the public interest."


In February 2009 funding for Yucca was cut to "those costs necessary to answer inquiries from the NRC, while the administration devises a new strategy towards nuclear waste disposal."


The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) told the DoE in June 2010 that it had no right to substitute its own ideas in place of those legislated by Congress. The DoE and the NRC are bound by law to complete their work at Yucca Mountain unless Congress acts to supersede the previous legislation. The DoE move to withdraw the application was rejected therefore by the ASLB.


However, in October 2010, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko decided that the NRC would end its review of the Yucca Mountain licence application, saying that the commission had not been allocated any more funds for such work.


The NRC's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has now completed a seven-month review of Jaczko's decision.


In a statement, Jaczko said, "The conclusions of the report reaffirm that my actions have been and remained consistent with established law, guidance, and my authorities as chairman."


He added, "The closeout of the Yucca Mountain licence review has been a complicated issue, with dedicated and experienced people holding different viewpoints. All NRC chairmen have the responsibility to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions."


Jaczko said, "With the OIG report now completed, we can all move forward with a renewed commitment to ensuring public health and safety in the use of nuclear materials - the essential mission of the NRC."


No scientific basis


The OIG's conclusion comes as a committee of the US House of Representatives released a report detailing the "complete absence of scientific information and analysis" used to support the Obama Administration's decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain project.


The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology said that the report was based on "numerous document requests and official correspondence between committee member and Administration officials over the last two-and-a-half years."


In a statement, the committee said, "The results of this review outline a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related process in order to shut down Yucca Mountain." It added, "To the contrary, the committee found great agreement among the scientific and technical experts that nuclear waste can be safely stored at the site for tens of thousands of years."


Ralph Hall, chairman of the committee, commented: "The findings are striking. Despite proclamations from the Administration that its policy decisions are based on principles of scientific integrity and transparent process, this report highlights that the decision to shut down Yucca Mountain had no scientific basis."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News


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