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NRC attempts to break Yucca Mountain deadlock

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel made an attempt to put the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project back on track Wednesday by issuing an order for all parties to report by Jan. 21 where they stand on the construction licensing process.

“It appears the Construction Authorization Board is trying to force everyone’s hand to end the stalemate,” said Bruce Breslow, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. “We have to respond as to whether we are ready and able to go to licensing, and we are.”

The NRC is considering whether the volcanic-rock ridge, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is suitable for disposing the nation’s highly radioactive waste from commercial power reactors and defense operations. The state of Nevada contends it is not safe.

This year, President Barack Obama’s administration, at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., terminated funding for the Yucca Mountain effort in the Department of Energy budget and closed project offices in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

But the project remains alive at the NRC. DOE’s staff asked the regulatory commission for permission to withdraw the 2-year-old license application, but the four commissioners taking part in the case appear to be deadlocked.

The three-judge Construction Authorization Board, part of a semi-independent sector of the NRC, had set aside its consideration of the license request in June but now appears unwilling to wait.

On Wednesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said DOE “will comply with its legal obligations” and respond by Jan. 21 to the order.

The construction board, chaired by Thomas S. Moore, stated in its three-page order that it “intends to issue a decision in the immediate future” on about 10 legal issues that Nevada’s attorneys raised last December focusing on safety.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@review
journal.com or 702-383-0308.

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