Yucca Mountain Follies: Let’s Rewrite The Ending, Please

Another act in the long running farcical melodrama called Yucca Mountain is unfolding this month. We have such a cast of characters that Broadway, or perhaps Monty Python’s Flying Circus, would be envious.

The dastardly villain has been played well by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has managed to include henchmen that are then disposed of when their usefulness has ended.

His chief minion was Dr. Greg Jaczko, whom he manipulated onto the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s five-person commission, then again into the chairmanship.

Dr. Jaczko proved himself more dastardly than even Harry could manage, what with his ill- timed outbursts at staff and overt manipulation of the other commissioners.

After banishing the good doctor into oblivion at the Department of Energy, Harry brought in a new minion, one with more charm, Dr. Allison Macfarlane.

Our hero in this story at the moment is the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, which finally issued a Writ of Mandamus against the NRC.

The judges waited for a year, in the hope that Congress would do something to make its intentions clear, but between the political stalemates in almost every aspect of government and Harry’s Machiavellian maneuvers in the Senate, no clear intention was forthcoming.

This Writ is historically significant as it represents the first time in U.S. history that the judicial branch has compelled the executive branch of government to complete an action.

The NRC seems to have chosen the role of well-meaning but ineffectual country bumpkin. The other commissioners are unable or unwilling to stand up to the machinations of Sen. Reid and his minions and, with their silence, have allowed an extreme miscarriage of justice—not to mention a blatant flouting of the laws passed by Congress and ratified by a sitting president.

Of course, the victim here is Yucca Mountain.

Sadly, the project is still on life support and the prognosis is not good. The hapless NRC has insufficient funds to bring it back to life, but only to complete the documentation of what kind of repository it could have been.

Dr. Macfarlane, Reid’s latest minion at NRC, has decided to ask the parties to the lawsuit to tell her what to do.

It would seem that her charm and her proclaimed desire for scientific truth does not permit her to find more devious and cut- throat methods to keep Yucca Mountain in a coma and waiting for death.

It appears that she is hoping that the wily Sen. Reid will get other henchmen to give her the air cover she needs to put Yucca Mountain back on ice.

To be a true melodrama, though, audience participation is required. We audience members must boo and hiss the villain, cheer the hero, and sigh for the victim.

We have a chance at participation, though it requires more effort than just loud applause. The NRC asked for the public to comment and suggest what the agency should do next.

They have about $11 million to spend, not enough to complete everything in their purview on Yucca and rescue it from certain death, but enough to tell us what it could have been. Flaws and

positive aspects of the facility. Lessons to be learned for the next time we perform this work.

Help the NRC step up to the hero’s role and stop being the stumbling, bumbling fool. Send an e-mail to the Secretary of the NRC: secy@nrc.gov.

Tell him that the NRC should issue the essentially complete volume 3 of the Safety Evaluation Report, then complete issue volumes 4 and 5.

Then demand that after that, the agency should lay before Congress and the nation what it will take to complete the work mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

Let the next act begin.

By providing that statement, perhaps we can help the other commissioners decide that the courts should not be the only hero in this story and demand a different ending to this multi-act play.

Such an action would allow the NRC to resolve the Waste Confidence issue that has brought all licensing actions to a halt and allow the U.S. to move forward with nuclear energy.

Whether or not we ever bury a single fuel bundle underground at Yucca Mountain is not, in fact, the point.

But having the option available when we finally need to store fuel is—and all we are asking for.

After all, nuclear is the only energy capable of delivering the vast quantities of electricity to drive our country without polluting our air and our water. That’s pretty heroic.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #5383, 09.26.2013. where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to FuelCycleWeek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.