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More Members of Congress Urge Completion of Yucca Safety Reports

Oct. 31, 2013—As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers how to comply with a federal court order to restart its review of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository license application, a group of U.S. senators has told the agency that completing the safety evaluation reports must take precedence over other activities.

The senators were responding to an Oct. 23 monthly status report from NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on activities the agency is considering in response to an Aug. 13 court order that the NRC continue the Yucca Mountain licensing process.

The Oct. 24 letter from John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), all members of the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee, noted that the NRC report places completion of the safety reports at the top of its list of actions.

“As the NRC has recognized,” the letter said, “completion of the safety evaluation reports is an important and logical next step in the NRC’s consideration of the license application for Yucca Mountain.”

The senators also note that the NRC staff has acknowledged that, although available funds are insufficient to issue a final repository license, completing the reports would “make information available to participants and the general public, … inform any national repository decisions, and … could enlighten any future repository reviews” (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Oct. 3).

The senators said that proceeding with the reports would show “the NRC’s commitment to study and evaluate a safe, permanent repository for this country’s nuclear waste.”

There have been other voices in Congress urging the NRC to complete the reports, including an Aug. 23 letter by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) that said, “NRC’s objective, scientific findings regarding the safety of Yucca Mountain would provide the public with an independent, authoritative assessment of this important project.”

A bipartisan letter signed by 81 members of Congress also has urged the NRC to complete and issue the safety evaluation reports (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Sept. 30).

Macfarlane noted in the monthly status report that the commission has collected views from participants in the Yucca adjudicatory proceeding on how the NRC should proceed with the process and has requested agency staff to gather cost estimate information. Among the other activities the NRC is considering in response to the court are:

  • Completing a supplement to the environmental impact statement.
  • Resuming adjudication by the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
  • Putting the archived Licensing Support Network back online. The network is a searchable computer database that holds all documents related to Yucca Mountain and, while the project was active, could be accessed by the public.
  • Preparing for any litigation brought against the NRC during the license review process.

The Aug. 13 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the NRC’s decision to stop the Yucca Mountain licensing process in 2010 “defied” the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that in 1987 designated Yucca Mountain as the used fuel repository. The court said the NRC is “under a legal obligation to continue the licensing process,” ordered the NRC to undertake that action, and said the agency has “at least $11.1 million in appropriated funds” to do so.

The same court on Oct. 28 also denied a petition filed by the state of Nevada asking the full nine-member court to re-hear the case. The decision mandating the re-opening of the NRC’s Yucca Mountain licensing process was handed down by a three-judge panel of the court.