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Nye County Seeks Macfarlane Recusal and Reopening of Yucca Proceeding

Aug. 28, 2013—Nevada’s Nye County is asking NRC Chairwoman Alison Macfarlane to disqualify herself from considering any matters related to the license application to construct a repository for used nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain.

The county, which is where the repository would be located, also asked the NRC to restart the licensing process, as ordered by a federal appeals court.

The motion seeking Macfarlane’s recusal cites her statements critical of the repository made during her previous career “as an academic and independent technical consultant,” statements it says would raise doubts about her impartiality during any restarted licensing proceedings.

The motion also says that Macfarlane gained personal knowledge “and actually formed an opinion” about numerous disputed facts during her prior independent investigations into the Yucca Mountain project and that this should make her recusal mandatory under the law.

In a separate motion asking the commission to “immediately lift” the NRC’s suspension of its license review in accordance with the court’s decision, Nye County also seeks the immediate release of the agency’s “original unredacted” safety evaluation reports—the staff’s comprehensive technical evaluation of the merits of the Yucca Mountain site—“with its safety conclusions intact.”

Issuance of the original safety conclusions, which the motion says the former NRC chairman improperly stripped from the safety evaluation reports, would be “a key element in restoring public confidence in the integrity of the licensing process.”

The motions were filed with the NRC last week, 10 days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the agency must resume the legally mandated licensing process for Yucca Mountain (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Aug. 13).

The state of Nevada also filed a motion with the NRC, asking that the agency’s Licensing Support Network be reconstituted to make the texts of relevant documents electronically accessible and searchable if the licensing proceedings are restarted.

In addition, the state asked that in-person hearings on restarted proceedings be held in the Las Vegas area and that the proceeding be conducted by the NRC’s Construction Authorization Board CAB 04, whose members the motion said “have extensive and unique experience in addressing the parties and issues in this proceeding.”

Notably, Nevada’s motion did not request, or even mention, the release of the NRC’s safety evaluation reports.

NEI, also a party in the Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding, will file an answer to the Nye County and Nevada motions in the near future.

Separately, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee has requested that Macfarlane testify at a Sept. 10 subcommittee hearing on what the NRC has done to comply with the court order. The committee has also requested Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz provide a witness to testify at the hearing on DOE’s actions.