ANS urges NRC to take action on Yucca Mountain

ANS President Eric Loewen sends letter to Chairman Jaczko and NRC commissioners to stress the importance and obligation to complete licensing application

Eric Loewen, president, American Nuclear Society

The American Nuclear Society has delivered an August 22 letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko and the NRC commissioners to urge the agency to complete the consideration of the licensing application for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository, ANS President Eric P. Loewen announced.

“As a professional and scientific society, ANS has chosen not to take a position on the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a repository site,” he said. “However, we have become increasingly concerned that NRC has not defined a clear pathway to complete the licensing process. Failure of the NRC to judge the Yucca application on its merits would be a triumph of shortsighted politics over science. That’s why ANS has come off the sidelines.”

The letter noted that the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has determined that the motion to “withdraw” the license application by the Department of Energy does not relieve the commission of its duty to review the application and make a determination on its technical merits.

Loewen added that the United States Court of Appeals, as recently as July 1, 2011, ruled that the NRC is required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to review the application. Nevertheless, the letter continues, “the NRC, without an open formal decision of its own, has suspended . . . review of the application and . . . refused to release . . . the Safety Evaluation Report.”

Loewen stated, “Our members are concerned that if the commission does not act, the court will order it to do so, thereby inflicting indelible harm to the commission’s reputation for scientific professionalism and independence. We urge the commission to protect its traditions of openness, objectivity, and excellence by completing the scientific review of this matter.”

The Las Vegas Review Journal has coverage of the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals on July 1, 2011.

Click here for the text of the letter from Loewen to the NRC.

Newsweek interviews Loewen

Loewen was interviewed by the online edition of Newsweek magazine  (The Daily Beast) this week about the letter. In the interview, Loewen pointed out that the DOE had studied Yucca since the late 1970s before handing it off to the NRC in 2008. When the funding from Washington ended, the NRC ended its review of the site.

ANS officers, many of them former industry leaders and academics, argue that the licensing process should be finished regardless of the project’s prospect of actually operating.

“We try to stay out of the politics and argue from a technical standpoint, but we’re just so frustrated as a technical community we want to come off the sidelines,” said Loewen.

Yet, the decision to shutter Yucca has long been considered political in nature. President Obama ordered the action under pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

All five commissioners, including Jaczko, declined to discuss the ANS letter and the NRC’s stalled progress on Yucca with the Daily Beast. But some have taken public stances against Jaczko’s decision to halt the project. William Ostendorff, who sits on the commission until 2016, told Congress last fall that he agreed that the NRC still had an obligation to investigate Yucca and other potential repository sites.

_____________

7 Responses to ANS urges NRC to take action on Yucca Mountain

  1. It’s a real shame that the ANS needs to remind the NRC of its legal obligation to finish the regulatory review process. Whether or not YM is the best ultimate repository or not, it is ceratinly a valuable interim repository, with the remaining worthwhile argument being the necessity of licensing it for more than a hundred years or so. In fact, if both sides would agree on a much shorter than previously assumed design life, we could still gain the benefit on an interim basis, with the added benefit of spent fuel retrieval as U prices naturally escalate over time. The biggest upside is the ability to assume ownership of the spent fuel in the near term and avoid additional multi-million dollar investments in adding dry fuel storage faciites to the LWR fleet.

  2. Nuclear power proponents and nuclear safety regulators all over the world are watching with concern the legal and political battles in USA over the management of used fuel. Countries which want to bestow enhanced legal powers to their regulators also are dismayed to note that NRC which already enjoys independent statutory authority and powers are mired in political controversies.
    Does it mean that NRC which is established as an independent statutory authority can bypass decisions taken by the Senate through well established legislation? Failure of USA which often enjoys bipartisan cooperation in matters of national interest, does not augur well for the international nuclear community.

  3. Dennis Mosebey

    Folks the statement that as a professional society ANS has chosen not to take a position on suitability of Yucca Mountain etc. This is what irritates me the most about the ANS–we publish all kinds of position papers, throw a heck of a party called an annual meeting every once in awhile, and on the things that really matter we will NOT Take a position. Well we better start. And by the way writing the NRC is NOT going to work. You have to get to the Congressional Oversight for whom the NRC is accountable, otherwise they just thumb their nose and say thanks very much we understand and appreciate your position and will take it under advisement. Just because we are a professional society DOES not mean we do not take positions. The Professional Reactor Operator Society has done more for nuclear power than ANS and I only pay 35 dollars a year to belong to it. I am disappointed in this stance. Dennis Mosebey, 25 year plus member.

  4. NAS not taking sides on the suitability of Yucca Mountain is a wise position. It was up to DOE to make a statement about this subject in a licnese application, and up to the NRC to say whether or not they agreed. That is the licensing process. The NAS did not interfere in this process by making a strong statement, allowing the NRC its rightful independence. DOE said it was safe, the NRC staff agreed in its Technical Evaluation Report. But that is NOT the NRC’s licensing board or its Commissioners, only its technical staff (the real experts), and NAS is rightly asking NRC to complete their job and come to an official finding. Once they do, if they ever do, it still does not mean Yucca will be used as a repository. The nation may be better served looking at a clay or salt repository, where not having to use barriers against water or oxygen will immediately save all the money that has already been spent at Yucca Mountain. The nation essentially has a volunteer state, or at least region within a state, since everyone from the Governor on down in new mexico came to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s meeting in Carlsbad and invited the Federal government to come down and talk about expanding the mission of the repository that has been operating near there for 12 years now. An offer not to be taken lightly, in my very personal opinion. Contrast the squabble over Greater Than Class C waste recently, where in response to an EIS Nevada’s response threatened to bring to bear all its stored ammunition against Yucca to bear on this issue, and New Mexico basically said (in more words, of course): “this could work, let’s talk.”

  5. I agree completely with Dennis. Since when is a scientific community afraid to take a position on a technical issue just because politics are now involved? This particular issue has 30 years of science behind it which supports the licensing of Yucca. I’m sure that at some point, the ANS has lobbied for nuclear power as a partial solution to global warming, however by your own reasoning, you shouldn’t even acknowledge that global warming exists.

  6. One definition of politics is: The art or science of governing or influencing governmental policy. In that vein I believe the scientific community not only has the right to offer its opinion and influence, it also has an obligation to do so when its scientific knowledge can bring better solutions to bear. Governance without all available inputs is at best weak, and in some cases dangerous. Why shouldn’t the scientific community and the societies that organize members and promote the science be involved in governance? In the broadest sense, governance is for and of the people. Some of the brightest should weigh in and be heard.

  7. Pingback: Radiation Bulletin: DOE/Fuel Cycle News Aug 29th – Sept 4th 2011 | The Energy Net