Washington, D.C.– Several leading Members of Congress asked Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to justify his plans to halt the review of the Yucca Mountain, Nev. nuclear waste repository and urged him to move the process ahead. In a letter sent to Jaczko, four ranking Republicans said that by requiring NRC staff to end the review of the Department of Energy’s application to license Yucca Mountain as a waste storage facility, he was single-handedly reversing the wishes of Congress.
“Your unilateral decision silences the opinions of other commissioners,” the letter said. “Legal challenges in federal court are imminent, pending final action from the NRC. Your directive gives the appearance of coordinated action between you and DOE, which suggests an additional level of impropriety.”
The letter was signed by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Wis., House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Ranking Republican; Rep. Joe Barton, Texas, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Republican; Rep. Ralph Hall, Texas, House Science and Technology Committee Ranking Republican; and Rep. Doc Hastings, Wash., House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican.
Last week, media sources reported that Jaczko instructed NRC staff to effectively end the review of DOE’s license application because Congress passed a continuing resolution for the new fiscal year that did not explicitly fund the review. While President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget instructs the NRC to end the Yucca Mountain review, the letter said that it was wrong to base an important funding decision on a budget that Congress had not passed. The letter further stated that there was no precedent for this decision.
Members of Congress told Jaczko that since the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) rejected the DOE motion to withdraw the application for the Yucca Mountain facility, the NRC must overturn the board’s decision before it can end the review. The Members wrote that Congress has repeatedly designated Yucca Mountain as a waste storage site, which was a factor that ASLB cited in rejecting DOE’s motion to withdraw the application.
“After 30 years of research and $12 billion in funding, one partisan bureaucrat should not kill the Yucca Mountain project based on a tricky reading of the budget,” Sensenbrenner said. “Congress clearly intended to develop Yucca Mountain as a high-level waste facility. Jaczko does not have the authority to veto Congress. Given the benefits of nuclear power and the nationwide thirst for clean, reliable energy, it is irresponsible for President Obama to turn his back on this vital project.”
Members asked Jaczko to cite the legal authority to terminate the review, explain how the policy change affects the pending appeal of the ASLB ruling, and describe how the Yucca Mountain review will go forward if the courts order it to be continued.
“These latest actions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission call into question its commitment to the laws Congress writes and its independence from the Obama administration’s questionable and costly decisions concerning the future of nuclear energy in America,” Barton said.
Members also asked if Jaczko had communicated with the White House, Energy Secretary Steven Chu or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about this decision.
“The latest action by NRC Chairman and former Harry Reid staffer Jaczko is yet another attempt to go around the law and jam though an illegal shutdown of Yucca Mountain. President Obama’s budget request has never passed the House and the stall tactics employed by the NRC since June are nothing but pure politics. This is a level of arrogance and disregard for the law that I’ve rarely encountered, but when it comes to Yucca Mountain the Obama administration seems content to simply make up its own rules,” Hastings said.
“I am disappointed that this Administration continues to insist on shutting down our nation’s most promising option for long-term nuclear waste storage,” Hall said. “Voting records over the past decade, in both the House and Senate, demonstrate clear Congressional support for Yucca Mountain. But now, without comprehensive scientific analysis, the NRC is taking Yucca off the table, thus slowing down a path to American energy independence.”
Please click here to view the letter.