Republican efforts to revive the Yucca Mountain high-level, long-term waste repository got a boost when a June 10 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of the Inspector General questioned NRC Chairman Gregory Jazkco’s use of a continuing budget resolution to shut down continued work on the repository.
The report from Inspector General Hubert T. Bell found Jaczko was “not forthcoming with other Commissioners about his intent to stop work” on Yucca Mountain work, but Bell stopped short of calling Jazcko’s actions illegal. Jazcko says the report showed his actions were within his authority as chairman.
In the meantime, on June 1, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft budget for the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which includes $35 million to continue work on Yucca Mountain. The administration did not request any money for the repository. Additionally, the House Science Committee released a report on June 8 claiming there was no scientific basis for the Obama administration to stop work on Yucca Mountain. House Republicans in April announced they would put under scrutiny the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to shut down work on Yucca Mountain.
During a June 14 hearing by the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, “The NRC Inspector General Report on the ‘NRC Chairman’s Unilateral Decision to Terminate NRC’s Review of the DOE Yucca Mountain Repository License Application,’” Republicans repeatedly said Jazcko’s actions were illegal and that he lied to his fellow commissioners.
Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Jazcko’s actions reflected the Obama administration’s “rush to pull the plug” on the repository. Upton said the repository should not be treated as a partisan issue.
But Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the issue of a repository has long been a political hot potato.
“This issue has been nothing but political from the beginning,” Markey said during the hearing. “The DOE was supposed to pick two sites,” but legislators from Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Washington and Mississippi all used political clout to prevent the long-term nuclear-waste depository to be located in their states. “Congress barred DOE from looking at any other site,” he said. Markey called President Obama “brave” for ending work at the site.
Party and state lines, though, seem to be driving the debate. In a June 1 hearing in front of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said that her state remains opposed to the waste storage there and that she would “lay her body down on the railroad tracks” to prevent shipments from coming into Nevada.
But Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) whose district is adjacent to South Carolina's Savannah River site where the U.S. stores high-level waste, during the same hearing that “We are too far down the Yucca Mountain road to turn back.”
Yucca Mountain would have stored up to 77,000 tons of radioactive waste from 80 sites in 35 states. Government estimates put the construction cost at about $100 billion. In October 2009, URS Corp., Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. and France-based Areva SA, were awarded a five-year, $2.5-billion, performance-based, cost-plus contract to continue working on the site. It was unclear at press time what work, if any, those companies continue to conduct in relation to the site. Jarret Adams, a spokesman for Areva, said the contract is still in place, but Areva is doing little work in relation to it.
Presiden Obama's 15-member Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, appointed after he ended work on Yucca Mountain, is studying storage options and is scheduled to release a draft report on its findings on July 29.