ANS urges NRC to take action on Yucca Mountain

August 29, 2011, 6:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

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.


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