Despite a recent federal court directive and pressure from Republican lawmakers to move forward with a review of the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet decided on its next step. However, the NRC has set in motion a process to help it determine what that future action will be, its chairman says.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Aug. 13 that NRC violated a federal energy law when it halted its review of a Dept of Energy application to build a nuclear-waste facility beneath Nevada's Yucca Mountain. The court also ordered NRC to restart that evaluation.
Speaking at a Platts Energy Podium meeting on Sept. 11, NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane said the commission and other parties have until Sept. 27 to appeal the court's decision. (Link here to Platts' podcast of the meeting.)
NRC also issued an order on Aug. 30 asking parties to comment by the end of September on how it should proceed with the Yucca Mountain review. NRC also asked its own staff to provide budget information by Sept. 30.
Macfarlane told reporters at the Platts event that she couldn’t say how long it will take the NRC to evaluate those comments. “It depends on, partly, how much information we get and how many people comment," she said. Macfarlane added that the NRC staff then “will have to collate that information and bring it to the commission.”
That information-gathering effort won’t be funded by the $11 million in appropriations the commission has left for the license application review, she said.
A day earlier, Republican members of a House subcommittee grilled Macfarlane about NRC’s course of action on the Yucca Mountain application. Testifying before the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on the environment and the economy, Macfarlane responded that it would be “inappropriate” to comment because the commission has not yet decided on a plan.
Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) pushed for action. He said, “Electricity consumers and taxpayers have waited 30 years and paid $15 billion to find out whether our independent nuclear-safety regulator concluded that Yucca Mountain would be safe or not."
Shimkus further said that the next step in NRC's process would be to issue a safety evaluation report. Shimkus said, "The NRC has the money to do it. A federal court has ruled that the NRC must proceed."
But the subcommittee’s top Democrat, Paul Tonko (N.Y.), chided the panel's GOP leaders for holding a hearing so soon after the appeals court issued its ruling. “The plan hasn’t been developed yet,” Tonko said.