NRC Splits on Yucca License Withdrawal, But Orders Work Close-Out

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Friday split 2–2, neither upholding nor rejecting a decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) last year that had ruled the Energy Department could not withdraw its license application for the Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste repository in Nevada. In a written decision, however, the NRC directed its licensing board to close out work on the project by Sept. 30, citing funding constraints.

The commission asked the ASLB to “complete all necessary and appropriate case management activities, including disposal of all matters currently pending before it and comprehensively documenting the full history of the adjudicatory proceeding,” by Sept. 30.

The commission’s fifth member, George Apostolakis, recused himself from the vote because he had worked on matters concerning the repository as part of a Sandia National Laboratory panel before joining the NRC.

While Democrats hailed the decision as a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to cancel the project, the vote does not mean the project is dead, House Republicans said on Friday. The Hill reported that that Energy and Commerce Committee Republican leaders have argued that the NRC decision places the project in a state of “suspended animation,” pending funding decisions by Congress and the Obama administration. 

“We expect the Senate and the President to put politics aside and cooperate with the full House so that license review may proceed, ensuring the billions of taxpayer dollars and nearly three decades of research is not wasted,” Reps Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

On Monday, the NRC issued the last of three Technical Evaluation Reports on the DOE’s license application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, saying it was nearing the “successful completion of its orderly closure of the licensing review process.”

Sources: POWERnews, DOE, NRC, The Hill