NRC Inspector General Testifies on Nuclear Chief's Strategic Manipulation of Yucca Mountain Project

June 15, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), held a hearing yesterday to examine the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General Report on the "NRC Chairman's Unilateral Decision to Terminate NRC's Review of the DOE Yucca Mountain Repository License Application." NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell testified on his office's report that revealed damning evidence that Chairman Jaczcko abused his legal authority by deliberately withholding key decision-making information from his fellow Commissioners and intentionally blocking issues for resolution that were long overdue.  

Members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns with the Chairman's deceptive behavior and questioned the legal authority of his actions. Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated the concern that Jaczcko withheld information from his fellow Commissioners is "a legitimate concern and one that should be examined."  Many members argued that the chairman violated the law by withholding information necessary for Commissioners to make fully informed decisions.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asked whether the chairman's actions were outside the spirit of the law. Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Joseph McMillan responded, "That, in fact, could be called into question as to whether or not he was within the spirit of the law as designed for a open collaborative engagement with the other commissioners."

Jaczko's Actions Outside the "Spirit of the Law" - Watch Rep. Cassidy's 
Exchange with Assistant IG for Investigations Joseph McMillan 

Subcommittee Chairman Shimkus also expressed alarm stating, "The Chairman's neglect of this duty alone is shocking as it denies to the parties of interest a full, timely determination.  But once you read further in the report, it becomes clear that the problems are worse than just inefficiency and even worse than neglect of duty.  There is outright malfeasance. The report is replete with instances of Chairman Jaczcko deliberately misleading both his fellow commissioners and senior NRC staff.   And he knowingly withheld crucial information from his fellow Commissioners even though the federal statute requires that all Commissioners have access to all information.  Manipulating information to railroad the administration's predetermined position is no way to lead the agency charged with our nuclear safety.  Our investigation continues as our nuclear future is much too important to jeopardize for short term political gain."

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said, "The circumstances surrounding the Obama administration's rush to pull the plug on the Yucca Mountain repository are alarming as much as they are disappointing.  We now have an administration that wants to erase the visionary effort launched by President Reagan, casting aside three decades of scientific research, bipartisan collaboration and a fortune invested to start from scratch no matter what the cost or consequences to our national security. We cannot allow our nuclear safety to be compromised by politics."

Given that Chairman Jaczko, an unabashed opponent of the Yucca repository, has sought to suppress the scientific safety reports on the project, the claim made by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), coincidentally Jaczko's former boss, during the hearing that the Yucca project is scientifically flawed defies logic. At a previous subcommittee hearing, witnesses revealed that Energy Secretary Steven Chu simply ignored the technical components of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository when withdrawing the project's license application, revealing the administration's decision to shut down Yucca was not based on scientific evidence.

Leading Committee Democrats Echo Concerns with Efforts to Terminate the Yucca Project

Watch Leading Democrats Voice their Concerns at the June 1st Hearing 

BACKGROUND: Prior to the Obama administration's termination, the Yucca project was nearing the finish line for full construction authorization with the Energy Department's submission of a license application in June 2008.  Federal law requires NRC to complete license review within four years at the latest. The GAO estimates that nearly $15 billion has been spent on research surrounding the Yucca Mountain repository since 1983, $9.5 billion of which has been directly collected from the public's electric bills.

During a recent hearing, witnesses revealed that Energy Secretary Steven Chu simply ignored the technical components of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository when withdrawing the project's license application. A recent Government Accountability Office report also found "social and political opposition to a permanent repository, not technical issues, is the key obstacle."  GAO also found termination will add to taxpayer burdens, by increasing the substantial liability costs for DOE's failure to take custody of spent nuclear fuel. These costs presently amount to $15.4 billion if Yucca were to open as planned in 2020 and will increase by an estimated $500 million for each year delay after that.

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