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E&E News: NRC chairman reveals Yucca vote - still no timeline for decision
November 8, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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E&E News

NRC chairman reveals Yucca vote; still no timeline for decision

(11/08/2010)

Katherine Ling, E&E reporter

Link to Article

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman's vote is in on whether the Energy Department can withdraw its license application to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., but there is still no timeline for an NRC decision on the matter.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko today said he first voted in August on whether DOE has authority to withdraw the repository application, then withdrew that vote and "continued active consultation with my colleagues before re-voting on October 29, 2010." Under NRC procedures, the results of a vote are not made public until a staff guidance is developed based on the votes and the commission passes a final order.

Jaczko reported his vote in a letter to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in response to an inquiry from the lawmaker.

Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked last week if and when NRC had voted on a lower board's ruling in June that only Congress has the authority to withdraw DOE's Yucca license application (Greenwire, Nov. 8).

Jaczko called Inhofe's request "unusual" and reminded the senator that initial votes are "an exchange of preliminary view for discussion and deliberation among the commissioners." The commission, he said, votes on a final order only after deliberations are completed.

The other three commissioners provided answers to Inhofe's questions Friday. The two Republican commissioners William Ostendorff and Kristine Svinicki voted on the question at the end of August, and Democratic Commissioner William Magwood voted on Sept. 15. The fifth commissioner, George Apostolakis, recused himself from the vote because of earlier work on the DOE application.

Jaczko did not provide an answer as to when the commission may approve a final order. An NRC spokesman said there is no estimate for when the final order may be approved.

The amount of time it has taken NRC to come to a final decision on DOE's authority to withdraw the license has been criticized by Republicans, the nuclear industry and state regulators. At a minimum, they are asking NRC to finish a review of DOE's application to help inform future repository applications, if not to preserve it as an option as a repository location for future administrations.

President Obama has determined to cancel the project and withdrew funding for it in his fiscal 2011 budget proposal. Last month, Jaczko directed staff to begin an orderly shutdown of the review under guidance on how to implement the continuing resolution that Congress passed at the end of September for funding the government through December.

Jaczko has told members of Congress there is precedent for such an action; the continuing resolution is silent on the matter, and the commission voted to approve the 2011 budget proposal (Greenwire, Oct. 28).

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia currently also has a stay on cases filed by Washington state, South Carolina, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and others pending NRC's decision about DOE's authority to withdraw from the Yucca project. NARUC and the states filed another motion to lift the court's stay last month in light of the agency's moves to close down the review.

Click here to read Jaczko's letter.

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