Congress expresses concern about Yucca Mountain closure

The Obama administration’s decision to suspend the construction of the politically contentious Yucca Mountain nuclear depository may have been illegal, according to congressional investigators.

Work on the project dates back to 1982 when Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), requiring the Department of Energy to establish a single permanent depository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and waste derived from defense uses. Congress later amended the act in 1987 to designate Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the sole depository.

Progress has been stalled ever since due to vocal opposition from environmentalists and from Nevada politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, due to worries that radiation would contaminate the ground water.

President Obama vocally opposed the project during his 2008 presidential campaign and chastised GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona for supporting it. In 2009, after being elected, Obama moved to zero out funding for building the project and then moved to revoke the Bush administration’s 2008 application to construct and administer the proposed facility in March 2010.

The Department of Energy’s request to withdraw the license application was turned down by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) on June 29, 2010.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) actions, led by Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former Reid staffer, have led to investigations into possible illegalities by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the GOP staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee .

“Shortly after taking office, President Obama pledged that ‘the public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions,’” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California wrote in a March 11, 2011 letter that committee staff recently decided to make public. “Likewise, as chairman, you have stressed the importance of ‘conduct[ing] the public’s work in an open and transparent manner.’

“Unfortunately, your actions surrounding the termination of the Yucca Mountain project fail to live up to this pledge.”

Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, who chairs the energy and power subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, went a step further and told The Daily Caller that the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may have broken the law by stopping work on the project without a congressional mandate.

“This was initiated by a statute that was signed into law all the way back in 1982, so what’s the legal authority for us to stop?” Shimkus asked. “Many of us believe there is none, and this is politics at its worst at its highest levels.”

He continued: “First of all, we think it is illegal for the NRC and for Obama through the secretary of energy to stop funding Yucca Mountain, and secondly, we really question the legality of the NRC delaying its vote [on revoking the license application].”

Commissioner Gregory Ostendorff likewise expressed concerns about the legality of and justifications for Jaczko’s actions in an Oct. 8, 2010 letter to his fellow commissioners.

And Science committee staffers say they believe Jaczko has been engaged in political maneuvering together with Reid and the Obama administration to quash any scientific reports that might suggest Yucca Mountain is safe.