July 15, 2024

Chairman Accused of Withholding Information in Nuclear Repository Decision

The report, by the commission’s chief internal investigator, does not accused the agency’s chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, of breaking any laws, but is likely to add to a political controversy over the Obama administration’s decision to kill the repository program.

In the 1980s, Congress picked Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as the prime candidate for a burial site for civilian and military nuclear waste, and in 2008 the Energy Department applied for a license to build the repository. But President Obama, making good on a campaign pledge, terminated the program.

The Government Accountability Office recently concluded that the administration’s decision was made on a political basis, not a technical one. Critics of the site, however, say it was chosen in the 1980s as a political decision, without thorough scientific evaluation of potential alternatives in Washington State and Texas, both of which were then more powerful in Congress.

At the moment, Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate majority leader and a fierce opponent of the project; Mr. Jaczko is a former aide to Mr. Reid.

When Congress failed to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, it approved a series of continuing resolutions, which generally hold agencies to the same spending level they had in the previous year. There were no instructions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in those resolutions about Yucca Mountain, but the Energy Department stopped most work.

Mr. Jaczko instructed his staff to halt evaluating the Energy Department’s license application. But the report, dated Monday, by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general, Hubert T. Bell, said that Mr. Jaczko had not told the other commissioners that he planned to use the budget as a reason to stop work.

Mr. Jaczko, in an unusual move, defended himself before the report’s public release.

“The closeout of the Yucca Mountain license review has been a complicated issue, with dedicated and experienced people holding different viewpoints,” Mr. Jaczko said in a statement. “All N.R.C. chairmen have the responsibility to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions.”

A three-judge panel appointed to hear the license application voted that the Energy Department could not withdraw its application, a decision automatically appealed to the commission. The commissioners appear deadlocked on that issue.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=00a938bf5032a9b990a70cf4e36dc272

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