Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Yucca Mountain Reawakened

nyesignWhether or not Nevada’s Yucca Mountain becomes a permanent repository for used nuclear fuel, the decision by the Obama administration to stop the project a few years ago left behind many loose ends, a fair number of them ripe for contention.

One of them was the repository’s license application submitted by the Department of Energy to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is a valuable document in itself and the NRC’s license approval – or rejection – would carry with it a tremendous amount of information that would be practically and scientifically useful regardless of the repository’s disposition – notably the technical and safety reports. Stopping this process made the political calculation behind the closing sting all the more.

But -

A couple of months ago, this happened:

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ordered the NRC on Aug. 13 to restart work on the process to license Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for commercial used nuclear fuel and for high-level defense waste, much of it from Hanford.

Then this:

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.

Nye County is the location of Yucca Mountain. The county wants this because, it alleges, “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.” Macfarlane disagrees with this view.

Macfarlane said the request, from pro-Yucca Nye County, Nev., was “premised upon the mistaken notion that I have somehow prejudged DOE’s license application.” She added: “I can state without hesitation that I have not prejudged the technical, policy, or legal issues in this adjudicatory proceeding, and that my expertise will enhance the commission’s deliberations and decision-making.”

The court will decide.

The story also references a request from Nevada to revive the DOE’s Licensing Support Network, a repository of documents related to Yucca Mountain.

So the gears are starting to move to get the licensing process back on its feet – it all may seem a little conflict heavy, but that’s to be expected. No one said the gears would move quickly.

But wait, as they say on late night TV ads, there’s more. And this is a very positive development.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., was one of the lead organizers of the letter sent to Chairwoman Alison Macfarlane. It was signed by 81 bipartisan members of Congress, including Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

I’m not sure how many of the 81 members are bipartisan in their makeup, but the group is definitely bipartisan, almost evenly  divided between elephants and donkeys. The reason this story focuses on Hastings and Rodgers, both Republicans, is because it comes from a Washington paper and they are the relevant representatives.

Thus, this paragraph about what’s going on:

Most of the Washington state members of Congress on Friday urged the new chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete the safety reports for the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., a key step toward licensing.

Much of the material at Washington’s Hanford site would go to Yucca Mountain, as noted in the first quote, hence the special interest from the great northwest.

In any event, here’s a bit from the letter:

When the license review process was shutdown in a misguided decision by your [Macfarlane’s] predecessor, NRC staff worked to complete one volume of the SER [safety evaluation report]and completed technical evaluation reports without recommendations for three of the other four volumes. It is our firm belief that completion of the SER will settle the debate and provide scientific data confirming what we have known for many years - that Yucca Mountain is a safe location for a permanent repository.

This has been the position of many House members for awhile – I’ve heard variations of it at various Capitol Hill hearings – so the unwavering faith in the outcome is not new or unexpected.

But the main takeaway from the letter?

We know you share the same hope we do of completing a permanent repository for our nation's nuclear waste. Such a goal is in the best interests of ratepayers, taxpayers, and our national security.

No argument here. There will a lot more on this -as you can see, there are many moving parts to this story.

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