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Energy Daily: Jaczko Delayed NRC Yucca Vote By Two Months
November 9, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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Energy Daily

Jaczko Delayed NRC Yucca Vote By Two Months

By Jeff Beattie

Tuesday November 09, 2010

In a disclosure that could fuel allegations that his handling of the issue has been politically motivated, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has acknowledged that he substantially delayed a commission ruling on whether the Energy Department had authority to withdraw a license application before the NRC on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

While a federal appeals court stayed litigation with the expectation that the NRC would expedite its decision on the controversy, newly released documents show that Jackzo initially voted on the Yucca matter in August, but then withdrew his vote and waited more than two months to resubmit it in late October-ensuring the matter would not be decided before the November 3 elections.

All the other NRC commissioners had voted on the matter by mid-September, according to documents delivered to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) last week.

In separate responses to questions raised by Inhofe, none of the commissioners revealed how they voted on the Yucca proceeding, in which NRC is reviewing the legality of DOE's motion to scuttle the waste repository by yanking a license application that NRC has been reviewing since 2008.

But the new information will feed speculation that Jaczko has been delaying release of the Yucca vote, possibly to protect his former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

It will also anger Yucca backers who note that a federal court halted litigation over the Yucca proceeding in July in order to wait for a decision from NRC, which said it would produce one quickly and has instead been silent.

Meanwhile, most observers think NRC's upcoming vote will reject the Energy Department's motion to withdraw the Yucca license application, which would have resuscitated the project in a way that would have embarrassed Reid during his tough re-election campaign against Sharron Angle (R).

Jaczko's November 4 letter to Inhofe says the chairman submitted his vote October 29, the Friday before midterm elections.

However, Jaczko also acknowledged that he initially submitted his vote on the Yucca matter August 25, subsequently withdrew it at an unspecified date for unspecified reasons, and then submitted the new vote more than two months later.

But for that, NRC might have dispensed with the Yucca matter a while ago, according to separate responses from NRC's other commissioners to Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In November 4 letters to Inhofe, Republican Commissioners Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff said they voted on the Yucca matter August 25 and August 26, respectively. In a November 5 letter, Democratic Commissioner William Magwood said he voted September 15.

Commissioner George Apostolakis, a Democrat, has recused himself from the case because of his pre-NRC work peer-reviewing aspects of the Yucca project.

The commissioners' letters offer the first public view into what has been the most contentious NRC voting process in years, perhaps decades.

Under NRC's rather unusual voting process, commissioners' initial votes are often accompanied by text explaining their underlying opinions, and are used in further deliberations to try to craft a consensus order.

Commissioners subsequently cast affirmation votes on that final order.

An NRC spokesman declined to say when a final order and affirmation vote on the Yucca matter might be released.

Formally speaking, the NRC is reviewing a May decision from a panel of NRC judges that blocked DOE's efforts to yank the license application, calling it illegal.

Inhofe and other lawmakers are angry at the Obama administration's decision to scuttle Yucca, and skeptical of the administration's stated reason that it wants to revamp the nation's nuclear waste management strategy. Critics say the administration has targeted Yucca as a political favor to Reid, who strongly opposes putting a nuclear waste repository in his home state.

State regulators and officials in South Carolina and Washington are suing DOE over its Yucca decision, saying it violates DOE's obligations under federal law to pursue a repository.

South Carolina and Washington want Yucca opened as a final dumping ground for tons of high-level nuclear waste stockpiled at DOE sites inside their borders.

The states have been especially critical of NRC because the agency sought to issue its own decision on the Yucca matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on the state suits, with NRC telling the court it would rule promptly on the issue.

Instead, while the court agreed in July to stay its proceeding to wait for NRC, the agency has done nothing, leading South Carolina and Washington to complain that NRC's lack of action was improperly giving DOE time to dismantle the Yucca program notwithstanding its legal ability to do so.

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