Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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Nuke watchdog questions Congress on NRC’s resolve

WASHINGTON -- Nevada wants Congress to step in to make the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Energy Department give the Yucca Mountain project a thorough review before any license application is submitted.

Bob Loux, executive director of the state's Agency for Nuclear Projects, sent a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Tuesday questioning the commission's commitment to "hold DOE's feet to the fire."

The department told the commission late last month that it would finish giving the staff all of the information it has on the remaining scientific and technical questions on the nuclear waste storage project planned at Yucca, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, by the end of the month.

Any additional information would be contained in the license application set to be delivered to the commission in December, the department said.

This bothers Nevada officials, who contend the commission's policy says all 293 remaining questions need to be closed before the department can submit a license application.

"NRC, on whose independent expert review so much depends, has so far given no sign that it will enforce its agreement with DOE," Loux wrote. "I write to you because I don't believe it will do so without some expression of congressional concern." Loux said that while Congress debated the Yucca Mountain resolution in 2002, the commission said they "will hold DOE's feet to the fire" on answering the key technical issues, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the work "must be done" before finishing the application.

"By shortcutting necessary and agreed-upon pre-licensing steps, DOE and NRC are pressing a greater burden on the NRC staff safety reviewers, who will have a limited time under the law to review DOE's application," Loux wrote.

Yucca Mountain project spokesman Allen Benson said the department will address all of the remaining questions before submitting the license application to the commission.

"If the NRC has any questions or requires further information, we will respond," Benson said.