Republican nominees for NRC sail through Senate committee hearing

Updated June 13, 2017 - 5:23 pm

WASHINGTON — Three Republican nominees to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would oversee a license application for the Yucca Mountain project, sailed through a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, despite questions by Nevada lawmakers.

Lawmakers on the Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works aimed most of their questions at Susan Bodine, the chief counsel of the panel, who has been nominated to serve as assistant administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance of the Environmental Protection Agency.

No questions about Yucca Mountain were posed to Kristine Svinicki, renominated by President Donald Trump to serve as NRC chairwoman. It would be her third term as a commission member.

Also selected to serve on the five-member commission are Annie Caputo, senior policy adviser of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and David Wright, a former chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Commission.

Also on the commission are Jeff Baran, a Democrat, and Stephen Burns, an independent.

Nevada’s two senators do not sit on the committee, but they sent the panel a letter that was placed in the record.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said in a joint statement said that the nominees under consideration for the NRC have a “history and record of strongly supporting moving forward with the Yucca Mountain repository.” The Nevada senators said they wanted to question the nominees at a later date. They said that if the nominees are confirmed, they want them to “approach this issue without any pre-existing bias and conflicts of interest.”

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., singled out Wright as “a leading advocate for shoving the nation’s nuclear waste down the throats of Nevadans.” She urged senators to reject his nomination.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the committee chairman, said the panel would vote Thursday on the nomination of Svinicki, whose pending nomination before the Senate is necessary to provide a quorum on the NRC after June 30.

Once approved by the committee, the nominations go to the full Senate for a vote on confirmation.

Svinicki appeared before Senate Appropriations Committee last week to seek $30 million in fiscal year 2018 to prepare for the restarting of Department of Energy’s licensing application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The licensing process was stopped in 2010 when the DOE withdrew the application and President Barack Obama defunded development at the site. Trump has asked for $120 million in his budget blueprint to restart the process and explore temporary storage of nuclear waste.

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress in 1987 as the site for permanent storage for nuclear waste produced by power plants nationwide.

The state of Nevada has opposed storage of nuclear waste at the site, citing safety concerns about transportation and storage.

Nye County, where the repository is located, supports continuing the licensing process to determine whether nuclear waste can be safely stored at the site. Surrounding rural Nevada counties also support restarting the licensing process.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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