NRC board gives lawyers OK to stop Yucca depositions

WASHINGTON — A panel of judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted permission today for attorneys to temporarily suspend preparations for Yucca Mountain license hearings.

The interim ruling by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board allowed attorneys for the Energy Department, the state of Nevada and others to put aside their groundwork for upcoming depositions, at least for now and perhaps forever.

It was the first in what could be a series of NRC rulings that could lead to the eventual withdrawal of the Energy Department's application to build a nuclear waste repository at the Nevada site.

"I am not planning to have depositions," said Bruce Breslow, executive director of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects. The NRC ruling means the state does not have to send checks ahead to hire court reporters or book flights to send attorneys to take testimony from expert witnesses.

Depositions were to begin on Feb. 17, but attorneys have been preparing for weeks. The interim ruling is effective until the NRC board decides whether to suspend license activities for a longer period. The board has 10 days to rule.

The NRC licensing board issued the one-page order a day after the Department of Energy asked for the Yucca Mountain proceeding to be suspended for 30 days. During that 30 days, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on Monday, DOE would file a motion to withdraw the application and bring the repository licensing to a halt.

While the NRC board considers the request to suspend the license hearings, DOE asked for permission to put the depositions on ice in the meantime as a way to save everyone money. Alex Polonsky, a lawyer for DOE, floated the idea by other attorneys in the case and all agreed.

Charles Fitzpatrick, an attorney for Nevada, estimated that the parties would save a combined tens of thousands of dollars by having the depositions set aside for now.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.