NRC releases redacted draft of Yucca safety report

WASHINGTON ­– The Nuclear Regulatory Commission released draft staff reports Thursday on the proposed Yucca Mountain repository but omitted any conclusions about whether the site would be safe for storing radioactive waste.

Agency officials delivered two thick volumes to Capitol Hill and made them public in response to a Freedom Of Information Act request from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

One of the documents was a key 700-page volume in which NRC scientists set out to evaluate the controversial question of whether tunnels carved in the mountain might safely hold radioactive particles from decaying nuclear fuel for up to a million years.

While they could have been politically explosive, the staff’s findings and conclusions were whited-out in that volume and in an accompanying 655-page volume. NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the reports were "predecisional draft documents," and the redactions were justified by a Freedom of Information Act exemption that excludes material that could affect a legal process.

"The documents are long, heavy and technically detailed. They are heavily censored," said Jack Spencer, a Heritage Foundation research fellow. "There are no conclusions, and the executive summary is gone. I don’t think this is going to very useful in the near term for a public policy debate."

The document release was the latest in the tug of war over the Yucca Mountain Project or what remains of it. The Obama administration has terminated the program within the Department of Energy while NRC officials say they are winding down work and archiving research. NRC management reviews of the largely completed safety evaluation report were brought to a halt in October when the agency began its Yucca shutdown.

Critics of the project’s termination have demanded the NRC disclose its findings, and the release of the redacted report did not satisfy them. Critics have charged that NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former adviser to the leading Yucca foe, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was rushing the agency to close its books before the project might be revived.

"We are rather disappointed this was redacted and we are curious why," said an aide to Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "We know from at least one of the (NRC) commissioners that the document was finished and ready for publishing last July, so the idea that it is not complete is pretty suspicious."

Joe Strolin, acting director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the NRC’s action was appropriate. The agency could have prejudiced ongoing legal proceedings by issuing a report with staff recommendations, he said.

Reid said Obama has made clear that Yucca Mountain should be history.

"I’m pleased that documents like the one released today will be archived so future generations remember what a bad idea this project was," he said.

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