Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yucca Mountain Spotted Fever #2

Back in February, I posted about the shenanigans that are taking place around the Yucca Mountain issue.  To summarize, the Department of Energy basically threw up its hands and said, "Forget it.  Burying spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain is becoming too much of a hassle, and we're going to go back to the drawing board."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has been dutifully processing and reviewing the DOE's Yucca Mountain request for the past 3 years, didn't want to get directly involved with this matter.  So the NRC asked the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (or ASLB, a particularly brainy division of the NRC) to look at the DOE's decision in detail and give a recommendation back to the NRC.  Makes sense, right?  "Here, go take a look at this thorny issue and tell us what you find."

In June 2010, the ASLB issued a statement (PDF), waving the "baloney" flag vigorously.  That pdf is one of the most brilliantly written pieces of governmental language I've ever read, and it truly gives me hope in the future governance of our country.  Seriously.  It's clear, direct, thorough, and actually readable -- if a bit long after page 16 or so.  It states:

For the reasons explained below, we conclude that Congress directed both that DOE file the Application (as DOE concedes) and that the NRC consider the Application and issue a final, merits-based decision approving or disapproving the construction authorization application. Unless Congress directs otherwise, DOE may not single-handedly derail the legislated decision-making process by withdrawing the Application. DOE’s motion must therefore be denied.

There are some other really juicy quotes in there.

Did Congress, which so carefully preserved ultimate control over the multi-stage process that it crafted, intend—without ever saying so—that DOE could unilaterally withdraw the Application and prevent the NRC from considering it? We think not.

So the ASLB came back to the NRC and said, "No Way."  Per the law, if Yucca Mountain is to be truly axed, it must be done by Congress.

And here's where it gets really interesting.

The NRC never officially took action on the ASLB's report.  And the NRC unilaterally decided to stop processing the Yucca Mountain application last week.

Why, oh why, would the NRC do this?  Its own brainy division told it that it couldn't stop the review, even if DOE wanted to.  One strong possibility is the lingering connection between the Chairman of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko, and Harry Reid, Senate Majority leader from Nevada who has tried to stop Yucca Mountain from being operated in Nevada at all costs.  Before becoming chairman of the NRC, Jaczko was Harry Reid's appropriations director.


So, earlier this week, Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma again restored my respect and hope in those who govern this country.  In a letter to each of the NRC Commissioners, he politely and directly asked two questions:

  1. Have you voted on the ASLB's recommendation?  If so, when?
  2. If not, when do you plan on voting?

This is brilliant in its simplicity: hold governmental organizations accountable.  I wish there was more of this.  I sent a letter to Senator Inhofe, congratulating him, and asking if he'd received any response from the commissioners.  No word yet, but I'll be happy to pass it along if I hear anything.

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