In Wake of Court’s Order, NRC and DOE Testify on Yucca Mountain License Review

September 10, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today held a hearing on “Implementing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act – Next Steps.” The hearing comes on the heels of the August 13 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must resume its review of the Department of Energy's license application for the Yucca Mountain repository, as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane testified along with Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Peter Lyons on their plans to comply with the court’s order. 

Yucca Mountain has long enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and members of the committee urged NRC and DOE to follow the law and move forward with efforts to build the repository. Committee members believe the first step in complying with the court’s mandate is for NRC to complete the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) on Yucca Mountain and release it publicly. Former NRC chairman Gregory Jazcko ceased the staff’s review of the license application one month before a key volume of this safety report was scheduled for release. NRC staff previously testified that the commission currently has the funds on hand to complete the SER and provide the public the first independent agency assessment of the Yucca application.

“Congress needs the opportunity to examine the NRC’s long-overdue unredacted technical analysis, and the public who paid for it deserve to know the report’s conclusions. During the three years the administration has been suppressing this document, Congress has been denied an informed discussion about next steps. … The path forward is unmistakable. Compliance with the law is not optional,” said full committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

Despite the court’s ruling and the funds available for the license review, Chairman Macfarlane refused to commit to issuing the all-important safety report. When asked by Chairman Shimkus if she saw a scenario where the NRC would decide not issue the SER, Macfarlane responded, “We are still deliberating on that.”

Chairman Shimkus expressed concern about the potential for the commission to engage in stall tactics, stating, “Here we are, nearly a month after the DC Circuit issued a writ of mandamus, and the NRC’s only action we’ve seen so far is to invite the parties to comment by September 30. Electricity consumers and taxpayers have waited 30 years and paid $15 billion dollars to find out whether our independent nuclear safety regulator concluded that Yucca Mountain would be safe or not. Releasing the SER is the next step in the NRC’s process. The NRC has the money to do it, a federal court has ruled that the NRC must proceed, and the NRC says ‘hold on, let’s ask the parties what they think’. … I strongly believe the NRC’s first order of business is to complete and release the Safety Evaluation Report. Transparency in this matter is essential to rebuilding the agency’s reputation as an independent and objective regulator.”

The committee will continue to hold the administration accountable to following the law, and both NRC and DOE committed to providing the committee with monthly reports detailing actions and expenditures concerning resumption of the license review. Upton concluded, “This issue has enjoyed a long history of bipartisanship and we will work to continue that tradition until the job gets done.”

 

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