NRC commissioner offers views on Yucca

Throughout the past year and a half of controversy within the agency, NRC Commissioner William Magwood remained publicly silent on Yucca Mountain. Until now.

Magwood posted a two-page statement to the NRC website this morning laying out his views, four days after the commission announced it had deadlocked 2-2 on whether the Department of Energy could withdraw its construction license application for the Nevada site.

Magwood, who served seven years as DOE director of nuclear energy before joining the NRC, said he officially would not disclose his vote. But his statement makes it clear he voted to allow the project to be withdrawn.

In their public comments or through documents that had been released, it had become evident Chairman Gregory Jaczko also favored withdrawing the project, while commissioners Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff argued it could not be done.

The fifth commissioner, George Apostolakis, had recused himself.

Magwood said he viewed the Department of Energy’s request to end the licensing process to be an administrative issue and not a more complex policy matter.

"The NRC’s normal procedural treatment — clear from our case law — is to grant an applicant’s motion to withdraw," Magwood said. "Divorced from the policy issues at play in this matter (as is appropriate for NRC’s role as an independent regulator), I see no choice but to treat DOE’s motion to withdraw like any other."

If the license application were allowed to be withdrawn, Yucca Mountain would remain the congressionally designated repository site for nuclear waste, Magwood said, "though we would have moved back a step."

"In effect, the proceeding would have reverted to pre-application status," he said.

Despite the tie vote, the NRC said in its order Friday that its licensing board should continue taking steps to close out the Yucca Mountain case, citing "budgetary limitations."

The Obama administration requested no funding for Yucca Mountain in the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and Congress has yet to act on the NRC’s budget.

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