Congress expresses concern about Yucca Mountain closure

A March 10, 2011 letter signed by Science Committee Chairman Ralph M. Hall, Texas Republican, Vice Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, Investigations subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun, Georgia Republican, and Energy and Environment subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, suggests science has taken a backseat to politics in NRC’s review of Yucca Mountain.

And internal NRC documents dated February 4, 2011, provided to The Daily Caller, seem to support their belief.

Dr. Janet Kotra, the deputy office director responsible for drafting the project’s safety evaluation, known as the Safety Evaluation Report (SER), wrote in an internal memo that Jaczko unilaterally instructed his staff to “move to orderly closure of NRC’s Yucca Mountain program.” This is despite the fact the Nuclear Waste Policy Act remains in effect and the full commission has yet to rule on whether the Department of Energy can legally withdraw the license application.

The “orderly closure” has been something less than orderly, according to her supervisor King Stablein, who suggests Jaczko’s interference caused the closure of NRC’s Yucca Mountain safety review to be full of “confusion, chaos and anguish” among staffers, many of whom had worked on the Yucca Mountain project for over two decades or more.

Stablein similarly called Jaczko’s decision to stop work on the SER “the arbitrary decision of one person.” The third section of the SER, which was supposed to address the scientific and technical ramifications of the closure, had been slated to be released in November 2010 prior to the NRC chairman’s unilateral decision to end work on the safety review.

“It felt to the staff as if the chairman had casually dismissed the staff’s sacrifices and effort of those many years without even bothering to engage his fellow commissioners in the manner commission decisions are usually handled,” Stablein wrote.

Jaczko’s decision not to proceed with finishing the third section of the SER has been further complicated by the fact the chairman has not allowed the full commission to vote on whether or not to uphold the ASLB’s decision to deny the administration’s request.

“Staff should not be put in a situation where the direction from the chairman appears to be in direct conflict with the NWPA and the fact of an active license application,” Stablein continued.

To date, Jaczko has yet to inform Congress when the vote will take place or if a vote has already taken place on overturning the ASLB’s decision. Congressional investigators say they plan to keep pressuring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman until they get more answers about the vote, as well as regarding the third section of the SER.

The NRC did not return TheDC’s request for comment.