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  • NRC Decision Game Changer for Nuclear Blue Ribbon Commission

    The Secretary of Energy’s request that the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future not consider Yucca Mountain has been debatable from the beginning.  After all, America’s electricity ratepayers have already invested over $10 billion into the repository.  And besides that, federal statute clearly states that Yucca Mountain will be the nation’s repository.  Whether or not that is the best policy, it is the law.  Ignoring this investment and federal statute seemed like bad policy from the start. 

    However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed what seemed to be bad policy to definitive bad policy on April 6 when it announced that it will not consider the Department of Energy’s motion to withdraw its application to construct Yucca until related lawsuits, which question the legality of DOE’s motion, are settled. Given that such lawsuits could take years to resolve, ignoring Yucca in light of this development would undermine the Commission’s credibility. The fact is that the Commission could well finish its safety review and be prepared to authorize Yucca’s construction by the time the courts finish their business and if the courts decide that DOE’s motion is illegal, then any Commission recommendation that ignores Yucca would be moot.

    That is not to say that the Commission was not going to consider Yucca anyway. It is made up of inquisitive professionals who clearly want to resolve a decade old problem and it is staffed by extremely intelligent and able individuals. That said, the Secretary’s charge to not consider Yucca comes with considerable weight and the Commission surely would prefer to follow his guidance. However, the NRC’s decision should provide the Commission with adequate justification to respectfully decline the Secretary’s request to ignore Yucca.

    Considering Yucca, however, does not mean recommending Yucca. The Commission should first come to a conclusion about Yucca Mountain’s viability. If it determines that Yucca is not technically viable, then it should simply defend that conclusion. However, if the commission concludes that it is viable and still determines that Yucca Mountain is not fit for nuclear waste disposal, then it should also state why that site should not be part of a comprehensive national nuclear waste disposition strategy and put forth a detailed recommendation on how to disengage from the program.

    On the other hand, the Commission could well conclude that Yucca is feasible and should be considered. Under this scenario, the Commission could bring high value to the debate but putting forth recommendations on how to ameliorate the underlying issues that have stifled Yucca’s progress, such as how to make Nevada a true partner in the process. One idea might be to consider making the license available to a third party, such as a private sector non-profit or even the state of Nevada. The new license holder could then negotiate a workable solution that would fully represent the interests of all parities. This process of negotiation was absent from the original decision to name Yucca the waste repository site. If no workable path forward is developed, then Yucca dies on Nevada’s terms. If an agreement could be reached, then Nevada could enjoy the many economic benefits of hosting such a facility.

    By slowing the Administration’s sprint to kill Yucca Mountain, the NRC has provided all parties an opportunity to think through the best policy solution moving forward. The Blue Ribbon Commission should grasp this opportunity to provide a truly comprehensive set of recommendations. Only by considering all options will the Commission truly be able to put the best set of recommendations forward.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to NRC Decision Game Changer for Nuclear Blue Ribbon Commission

    1. Yucca Insider, Las V says:

      davelv raises an interesting point that I myself have blogged about elsewhere. DOE has been proceeding as if the NRC judges had already granted DOE's motion to withdraw. DOE, for example, has ordered that the Yucca Mountain Project Performance Confirmation Program be shut down, in advance of any final ruling by the NRC.

      This program is required by NRC regulation 10 CFR 63.131, so DOE is basically already in breach of a required element of its own license application. Some have likened these and other DOE actions to a "suicide by cop" strategy. In other words, DOE is taking actions (including reassigning most of its Yucca Mountain Project workforce) that will ensure that the YMP cannot be resurrected, even if things don't go DOE's way in the courts or in the NRC proceeding. Shutting down the Performance Confirmation Program is a good example insofar as it may give NRC grounds for vacating the YMP license application on the basis of DOE's non-compliance with regulations.

      More distressing in my view (and this is a story you should report on, Jack) is the announcement today that DOE lawyers plan to appeal the order issued yesterday by the NRC judges presiding over the Yucca Mountain proceeding.

      It sure looks like DOE got a phone call (perhaps from Harry Reid) instructing them to appeal yesterday's motion to the NRC commissioners. Thus, the commissioners (the chairman of whom once worked as an aide to Reid) are being asked by DOE to overturn an order issued by the NRC's own allegedly independent judges.

      If that order should be overturned by the commissioners, NRC will have done serious and perhaps irreparable damage to its credibility as an independent and apolitical agency.

      We continue to learn the degree to which certain politicians and agency heads are willing to expend resources (taxpayer money and agency credibility) in order to get a certain senator re-elected.

    2. davelv, Las Vegas, NV says:

      Excellent commentary, except you are incorrect that the deferral decision slowed the Administration’s sprint to kill Yucca Mountain. Secretary Chu’s General Counsel has somehow determined that he has the authority to reprogram away the project, and he is proceeding to do so. If there are no engineers left to defend the License Application, then it is defacto dead regardless of what the courts rule.

    3. Zola Hunt, St. Georg says:

      Taking personal responsibility begins with managing your own nuclear waste and not shipping it to us. The technoogy is available to re-use spent fuel rods. This would be safer and use less energy than transporting them across the country.

      I have lived downwind of the Nevada test site and Yucca mountain for most of my life. I have witnessed government representatives lying to us since I was in the fifth grade when they told us not to eat the snow and tell our mothers not to hang clothes out on the clothes line-but that the bombs were harmless. I have even less faith in government now.

      While I am a conservative who is not opposed to nuclear energy, I do not want nuclear waste transported,whether by rail or by highway, through southwest Utah on its way to Yucca Mountain. Neither method of transport is completely safe. Train derailments in desert canyons do not make the news, but they do happen.I have seen firsthand the results of nuclear fallout;I have lost friends and family members to radiation related cancers and its not a pretty picture

      .

      Those who enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy should also shoulder the responsibility of caring for its byproducts and not foist their problems on us!

    4. Karen/Nevada says:

      Ironic how DEMS pushed Yucca Mountain as a jobs program in 1975! Another boondoggle they'd like everyone to forget about. Articles on their efforts to court the feds on this project are disappearing from the Internet…wonder what articles will be available for reading 35 years after this Healthcare bill has been shoved down the throats of Americans?

      Sunday, March 24, 2002

      Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

      State politicians once courted nuclear waste

      In 1975, officials who would later oppose project passed resolution in support of dump

      By JANE ANN MORRISON

      REVIEW-JOURNAL

      Remember when Nevada politicians wanted high-level nuclear waste to be stored at the Nevada Test Site?

      The year was 1975.

      Two high-profile political figures who later became vociferous foes of nuclear waste coming to Nevada supported an Assembly resolution "strongly urging" the government "to choose the Nevada Test Site for the storage and processing of nuclear material."

      The rationale behind the resolution: jobs. Nevada, it noted, had an unemployment rate 20 percent higher than "the disturbingly high national unemployment rate."

      Richard Bryan, then a state senator, voted for the resolution. And Mike O'Callaghan, then the governor, signed it.

      Some of the "whereases" probably would be considered heresy if uttered by Nevada politicians today. One read: "The people of Southern Nevada have confidence in the safety record of the Nevada Test Site and in the ability of the staff of the site to maintain safety in the handling of nuclear materials."

      Twenty-seven years later, safety is the argument brought up most often in opposing the placement of a repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

      Today, Bryan and O'Callaghan don't see this chapter in history as having any significance, particularly since resolutions carry no legislative weight other than being an expression of opinion.

      But Bryan acknowledged last week that in retrospect, it was a vote that was not well thought out. O'Callaghan said he signed it only because governors cannot veto reso- lutions.

      Neither believes Assembly Joint Resolution 15 played any role in the steps that culminated in Nevada being selected this year by President Bush as the nation's nuclear waste storage site.

      Opposition to the 1975 resolution came largely from Northern Nevada. In the Assembly, only one Southern Nevadan, Jean Ford, voted against it. Ford has since died.

      The resolution was introduced by Assemblyman Lloyd Mann, D-Las Vegas, who said at the time he didn't anticipate any safety problems in storing nuclear waste. He predicted that if Nevada were chosen, such a program would pump $1.5 billion into the economy over the next 40 years.

      "I've got six kids and one due in June," he said in 1975. "I want that as safe as anyone else."

      Sue Wagner, now a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission, was one of the Reno Assembly members who voted against the resolution.

      "I understood the rationale of the people from Clark County, because it would mean more jobs," she said last week. "That's the kind of issue used on the floor of the Assembly to get all of us to support it."

      But after attending a hearing where Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dixie Lee Ray made a presentation in support of the resolution, Wagner said she wasn't convinced.

      After talking it over with her husband, who was a scientist at the Desert Research Institute, "We agreed it was questionable in terms of safety."

      Bryan, who fought the dump as governor and U.S. senator, said his opposition solidified by 1983. The 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island contributed to his change of view.

      Could the resolution have opened the door to Nevada becoming the only state where a nuclear repository site would be studied? "God, no," Bryan said. "Other than in a political contest, it has never been the subject of any discussion."

      In his governor's race in 1988 and his U.S. Senate race in 1994, Bryan's political foes made hay of his vote. Bryan fended off the comments by saying his support for the resolution was a mistake from which he had learned.

      Bryan said he agreed with a recent article by the Nevada Policy Research Institute's Steven Miller, who said the resolution was a result of the eternal chase for federal pork.

      Although Bryan is rarely in agreement with the conservative think tank, he said, "There's some validity to the criticism. That's the way it was presented to us, as a wonderful opportunity for jobs. And we were not enlightened about the risks."

      Both Bryan and O'Callaghan were of the generation that was proud of the above-ground nuclear weapons testing at the test site, and both said that contributed to their support of the resolution.

      Bryan recalled that his 1953 Las Vegas High School yearbook had a nuclear detonation on its cover, an example of the pride Nevadans had then for the nuclear tests.

      O'Callaghan, now the executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun, said he worked with Assembly Speaker Keith Ashworth to improve the resolution, but never obtained the language he most desired, that voters should be able to approve or reject a repository.

      "At that time, it was not that big of an issue," O'Callaghan said of the resolution. But by 1979, his opposition was firm and in 1980 he testified in the U.S. Senate against a nuclear repository.

      By that time, the confidence expressed in the Atomic Energy Commission had dis- appeared.

      O'Callaghan told the Senate that Nevada "now resents not being told all the truth about the dangers our citizens and the citizens of neighboring states were subjected to during the time of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons."

      Again, he stressed the need for giving Nevada voters veto power to block the repository for any reason.

      In his testimony 22 years ago, O'Callaghan said Nevadans have been more than cooperative with the federal government. "However, we have reached the point where we are feeling used rather than needed."

    5. Bill Brown, Arlingto says:

      Not to use the already constructed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Disposal Site, if and when a license is issued by the NRC, would be another prime example of how the Obama Administration allows narrow political considerations to trump the national good. The only thing that would cause a realistically significant release of radioactivity from the glass encased steel cylinders stored deep in Yucca Mountain would be a direct hit by a large asteroid on Yucca Mountain and the release of any radioactivity would be the least of the worries of the State of Nevada and, indeed, the entire earth. Storing such materials at Yucca Mountain makes so much more sense from an environmental and safety standpoint than storing them in pools of water at the various nuclear plants around the country. Of course, we could always reprocess the waste into new fuel as some countries do, but another foolish president stopped that: Jimmy Carter.

      Of course, the scare tactics promoted by our liberal politicans on nuclear energy are also used to stop the environmentally safe drilling of oil and natural gas in our off-shore waters, in the north slope of Alaska, and in our nationl forests under the guise of environmental concerns. The ultimate irony is the fact that oil and gas companies are drilling for natural gas this very day, and have been so drilling within the city limits of north Texas cities such as Fort Worth and Arlington every day for several years, with general public support and little environmental impact. The only difference is that people live in north Texas, but not in the other areas. Go figure!!!

      These suicidal energy policies of the liberal politicans of the Democratic Party should and must be reversed before it is too late. The future of our country is literally at stake.

    6. Bill Brown, Arlingto says:

      To respond to Zola Hunt's concerns, the transportation of nuclear material across the country takes place every day and, while there is no such thing as absolute safety, I believe that the public can be assured about the safe transportation of such materials. There has been an enviable record in this regard. The DOE has the most rigidly safe standards for the containment and transportation of nuclear materials that could be reasonably imaginable. The containers have been field tested in the most realistic circumstances. If Zola Hunt wants to be concerned about something, it should be the transportation of toxic chemicals and related materials across country without being required to meet the same type of stringent standards that exist for nuclear materials.

    7. Pingback: Keep Yucca Mountain on the Table | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

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