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  • NRC Censors Flub Opportunity to Move Yucca Debate Forward

    As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, The Heritage Foundation today obtained the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Yucca Mountain Volume III Safety Evaluation Report (SER). This document is critical because it contains the NRC’s conclusions regarding the scientific and technological merits of the Department of Energy’s application to construct and operate the high level nuclear waste repository.

    The NRC’s assessment should be the final word on the whether or not the Yucca facility could be safely built and operated; hence its conclusions have been much anticipated. Therefore, we were terribly disappointed that both the executive summary and the report’s conclusions have been redacted.

    The NRC defends its decision to redact this information on the basis that the document is predecisional and not commission policy. That is because NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko ordered a stop to all review activities last year, so the NRC staff’s work and conclusions never had the opportunity to be vetted. This ensured that the work that the commission staff had undertaken over the previous two years—which culminated in the SER that was obtained today—would be stopped before the commission could affirmatively approve its conclusions. This allows the NRC to now say that the conclusions should not be made public because they were not completely vetted. The NRC’s official justification is at the end of this post.

    The problem with this assessment is that it does not respect the context of the Yucca Mountain issue. Given the controversial nature of the debate, the billions of dollars spent on Yucca Mountain, and the project’s importance to the nation’s energy future, the NRC should have figured out a way to give the public access to the staff’s conclusions. Not doing so forces policymakers, the public, and other stakeholders to form opinions based on an incomplete data set. And while the staff conclusions may not represent a final SER, much less commission policy, they would have gone a long way to inform the public debate over Yucca.

    And ultimately, that is why the decision to redact the most critical parts of the SER is so disappointing. Despite what Senator Harry Reid (D–NV), Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, or President Obama say, the debate over Yucca is not over, and keeping information out of public view does not change that.

    We have not yet had the opportunity to pour through the 700 pages of the SER Volume III, but we will spend the next 24 hours doing exactly that. We will report our conclusions soon. Stay tuned.

    NRC Explanation of Redacted Material

    The NRC, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, today made public redacted drafts of Volume 2 and Volume 3 of the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report for the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev. These documents will be publicly available in the NRC’s ADAMS online database later this afternoon (we hope) by searching for accession number ML110480651.

    The NRC is making these documents available as part of its commitment and responsibilities under FOIA. These are predecisional draft documents that have not undergone management review. As such, they are not official agency documents and have been redacted in accordance with FOIA withholding criteria to exclude material that could impact the adjudicatory process.

    It is important to note that even a final SER would not amount to a licensing decision; the SER would have to be adjudicated before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board conducting the Yucca Mountain hearing (with nearly 300 contentions admitted), before a final licensing decision could be made by the Commission.

    Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Volume 3

    Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Volume 2

    Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Appendix A

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to NRC Censors Flub Opportunity to Move Yucca Debate Forward

    1. George Colgrove, VA says:

      We need to get rid of this exemption of FOIA. It is a bureaucratic protection clause. This exemption is vital in allowing the federal government to cover up all preliminary discussions that lead to draconian regulations, and wasteful internal policies and procedures. We need to know the basis of their decisions as we need to know what is going on in Yucca Mountain. This is our information and often this is where the government can be exposed for their embarrassing and unprofessional self-serving behavior. They should not be able to withhold this material. The point with FOIA is not to have “management” review what we want to know – or what they do not want us to know. The point is for FOIA to give us the information we need to know and to provide accountability for a corrupt government. FOIA was born out of federal corruption, obfuscation and lying. Since its inception, they have worked hard to constrict what gets released to a point FOIA is a massive bureaucracy. A job once done by a program office secretary is now managed by 10's of thousands of "access and privacy" federal and contractor workers. FOIA is important, but I think what is going on in DHS, and the SEC among others and considering the massive backlogs of unattended requests counted in the thousands spanning over nearly 20 years, something has to be done.

      Sure material of immediate national security, privacy of non-government citizens and private company trade secrets should be withheld. Embarrassing, criminal, fraudulent information on the federal government should be released and quickly (not after 12 years of the original request as many are setting today). If that means they release unedited unredacted meeting notes and if that means we get preliminary marked up drafts of reports – so be it. It is our information – we paid every dime for it.

      This is why I feel FOIA requests should be processed outside of the bureaucracies of these departments. FOIA is populated with probably the most dedicated federal employees, but they are heavily controlled and constricted by the agencies or departments they work for. By moving FOIA outside the federal departments, not only do we save millions of dollars in consolidating the rather top-heavy management of 59 separate FOIA offices throughout the federal government, but also they no longer need to answer to their “bosses” – or in other words be under the intimidation, the pressure and control of the people and the bureaucracy providing their employment. If government is to be more transparent, we need an unconnected – unbiased group of non-federally employed professionals who can use proper judgment to protect national security, private citizen’s privacy and company trade secrets. All the while, providing the public ALL of the information AVAILABLE, so the public can know what is going on with the most expensive and least effective workforce on the planet. The public needs to know this information so we can make wiser choices on how we vote to support (or not support) this behemoth.

    2. David says:

      The NRC stated

      "The NRC is making these documents available as part of its commitment and responsibilities under FOIA. These are predecisional draft documents that have not undergone management review. As such, they are not official agency documents and have been redacted in accordance with FOIA withholding criteria to exclude material that could impact the adjudicatory process. "

      Translated into English is "We are autocrats isolated from the rabble and we are going to stonewall this issue forever until we retire with our golden pensions. We have a limitless arsenal of excuses to cover our actions. That the NRC is taxpayer funded is inconsequential in NRC decisions."

    3. Patrick Carroll says:

      It's obvious that they're still considering Tom Clancy's latest novel.

    4. R Holland, Chandler, says:

      More of the Obama's administration transparency???

    5. richard, chicago says:

      Thank you for the good and valuable work that you are doing on behalf of the American people!

    6. F (Nevada) says:

      Having worked on FOIA for the US Department of State, I will acknowledge that the reason cited is a legitimate reason for denying a FOIA request. The thinking behind this particular reason for exclusion from release is that being forced to air internal debate would quash reasoned discussion inside the administration, and I agree with that.

      However this is a transparent means, in this case, of frustrating the purpose of the FOIA. When I was doing this work for State we bent over backwards not to play this kind of game — occasionally at the expense of some pretty boneheaded documents that should never have become part of the public record simply because they had not been well thought out or properly vetted internally.

      This finding should be appealed. I think there is a good chance it would be overturned on appeal. Then the question becomes, would the NRC release the documents in response to court order? The track record of this administration is not good on that front and I am a skeptic. F

    7. Ken, Maryland says:

      Missing from this article is an interesting bit of context,helpfully supplies by the NRC's own website:

      "Dr. Jaczko served as appropriations director for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and also served as the Senator's science policy advisor."

      So the NRC Chairman previously was a staffer for Harry Reid! Hmmm……..

    8. Ken, Maryland says:

      Was anyone aware that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was a staffer for Harry Reid before assuming his duties at the NRC? From the NRC website: "Dr. Jaczko served as appropriations director for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and also served as the Senator's science policy advisor."

    9. George Colgrove, VA says:

      F,

      I appreciate the hard work you and others have done in this necessary business. However, when you say "The thinking behind this particular reason for exclusion from release is that being forced to air internal debate would quash reasoned discussion inside the administration". I whole heartedly disagree. I have discussed this before with others and I feel, we the people have the right to everything. Government should work in the open with an "open door policy." I worked for the Agency of Transportation in VT and we pretty much worked like that. Every debate, every discussion was pretty much open to people roaming the halls.

      If people cannot operate openly, then logic says they have something to hide. There is no grey area in this debate. Transparency means allowing the people access as if there were a blanket "open door policy". We should be privy to that information. Government is inherently untrustworthy. FOIA was born out of federal corruption, cover-ups, lying and fraud. If the feds were truly honest, no one would have ever dreamed up FOIA. As with anything governmental, it was born out of failure. It is a law that pries open government so that we the people can see inside as if we were there.

      Granted, subjects relating to a private citizen's privacy, national security and private company trade secrets, and even information relating to current litigation that would compromise private citizens case prior to being convicted should be redacted as they are now. However, everything else should be released. Perhaps knowing the public has access to all these meetings and drafts would be a good check and balance on this massive bureaucracy. More controlled discussion inside board rooms would not be a bad thing.

    10. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » TRANSPARENCY: Obama Administration Censors Nuke Report….

    11. Matt, Reno, NV says:

      "The thinking behind this particular reason for exclusion from release is that being forced to air internal debate would quash reasoned discussion inside the administration, and I agree with that."

      This is the Federal Government, you're talking about. If there was reasoned discussion taking place, now THAT would be something to proud of! Air that, somebody?! please!!!

      All joking aside, the American people are the boss, as in a "government of the people, by the people, for the people…" You cannot insist on withholding "boneheaded documents" from your boss. More importantly, the "boss" never agreed to redacting documents "in accordance with FOIA withholding criteria to exclude material that could impact the adjudicatory process".

      This is insubordination at its WORST and needs to be corrected immediately! Investigate Reid and Jaczko, then figure out a place to store/reprocess nuclear waste! Ideally it would be a temporary storage/reprocessing site at Yucca because this state NEEDS JOBS, and the country needs efficient and clean energy!

    12. Bobbie says:

      In total agreement with George and Matt. Incompetence is not part of the position and uncalled for. Not worth a tax payer dime. It's beneath the standards of America(ns). We need qualified people that aren't going to play games with our lives. Please publically address, correct and remove.

    13. Bobbie says:

      I mean to address, correct and remove those people accountable to the incompetence.

    14. Pingback: Daily Dive-18 Feb 11 | adeliemanchot

    15. Dan, Maryland says:

      Little known fact: NRC Chairman Jaczko was a staffer for Harry Reid. From the NRC's own website: "Dr. Jaczko served as appropriations director for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and also served as the Senator's science policy advisor."

    16. Pingback: Safety Evaluation Report Related to Disposal of High-level Radioactive Wastes in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada — Volume 3: Repository Safety After Permanent Closure « RFF Library Blog

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