A panel weighing the Energy Department’s license application for building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain wonders what will happen to 80 million pages of supporting documents if funding to keep track of them is slashed after September.
“If the system doesn’t work and those documents can’t be retrieved, that’s roughly akin to tossing it in the waste basket,” said Administrative Judge Thomas Moore of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Construction Authorization Board.
His comment Wednesday during a hearing in Las Vegas was aimed at preserving more than two decades of scientific work about the site, 100 miles northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. That’s where the Department of Energy had planned to bury 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste and used reactor fuel.
After the license application was submitted in the waning months of the Bush Administration, the Obama administration and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have said the site now is not an option for a national nuclear waste repository. Nevertheless, the agency’s effort to seek a license is continuing, at least through the end of the 2010 fiscal year.
None of the $8 million to $9 million needed to maintain the massive, computerized Licensing Support Network will be available if DOE’s budget for defending the license application is terminated in 2011 as DOE officials have indicated.
Without a workable network to obtain documents for depositions and challenges to the application, parties, including Nevada, will have a difficult if not impossible task of challenging the license application.
An attorney for Nevada, Charles Fitzpatrick, said Nevada intends to preserve its opposition work in a searchable form on compact discs and DVDs. But the lion’s share of the network — 99 percent — is the Department of Energy’s scientific and engineering data that would be at risk of becoming unavailable, Fitzpatrick said.
“What if there is no LSN (Licensing Support Network) and you can’t do discovery? We say you deny the license application,” he said during a break in the two-day hearing sessions that ended Wednesday.
Moore directed the parties to submit written comments on the network archive issue for discussion in February. “We will have taken the first step to protect the LSN the best we can,” Moore said.
In a related matter, representatives for the Native Community Action Council, were seated for the licensing proceeding.
The council released a statement quoting president Margene Bullcreek.
“We are here on behalf of the land and people of the Great Basin to ensure we are heard,” Bullcreek said. “A Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository will disproportionately impact the land and the people … sooner or later. That fact is lost in the NRC hearing.”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.