On September 10, 2013, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison Macfarlane and the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, Peter Lyons, spent almost two hours testifying in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They had been invited to the hearing room to tell the committee what their organizations were doing to implement the order of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to proceed with mandated action to review the DOE’s license application for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository.
Each witness was asked a number of pointed questions; they provided few, if any answers, claiming that they were “collecting information” or waiting for responses for a call for advice on how to proceed. It was disappointing to hear Pete Lyons, representing the license applicant, state that his organization had taken no action. He stated they were waiting to be told what to do next by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Obtaining any license from the NRC is hard work; it is virtually impossible if the applicant is passive and simply waiting for the regulator to move.
Throughout the hearing, the representatives from both agencies repeatedly informed the Congressional committee that they did not have sufficient funds to execute their responsibility under the law. It was not until late in the hearing that I heard one of the Congressmen ask the question that I would have immediately posed – “if you do not have enough money to do your job, what you have done to request the necessary funds?” I’ve been involved in the federal budget process; though Congress authorizes and appropriates funds, it is the responsibility of the agency that needs the funds to identify their needs in their budget request.
In this case, it is also legitimate to ask the agencies why they do not have sufficient funds when they have expended the appropriated funds on purposes other than those for which they were appropriated. By disbanding the teams that were working on the license application and by putting the relevant documents onto optical disks to be stored in a safe, both the DOE and the NRC have made it far more difficult – and expensive – to complete their assigned tasks. Obviously, those actions were taken with malice and understanding that a task estimated at $6.5 million and 6 months would take FAR longer and cost more if a new team had to be assembled, trained and brought up to date compared to continuing with existing momentum.
Though I have never been a fan of moving valuable fuel material from its currently safe resting place to a remote location for permanent disposal – I think that is a waste of effort and a waste of an enormous energy resource – I am a big fan of democratic decision making. That process generally does not, and should not, include the ability of a minority to overrule the decision of the majority, especially in a case where the vote is not even close.
There was repeated mention of a “consent-based” approach, but it is not clear to me whether the people advocating that approach recognize that agreements in a democracy do not require unanimous consent.
I do not understand “states rights”, especially in the case of decisions that pay no attention to artificially drawn, imaginary lines that exist only on maps. Commerce in the United States does not stop at state lines, neither does water or air pollution. A great deal of land, especially in western states, is owned by the federal government to be used for purposes that benefit all Americans, not just those living in a particular state.
Nevada is a large state with a small population. About half of its land is ours, not theirs. It is still a wonder to me how our constitutional democracy has evolved to the point where an unscrupulous Senator from a tiny state with only 5 votes in the Electoral College can impose his will on the entire country. How did Harry Reid accumulate so much power? I’ve read about Reid’s background in “This Town” and still just don’t get it. Why don’t his colleague tell him to go jump in a lake when he tries to ramrod his agenda when it disadvantages everyone else? Can anyone explain?
Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the representative from one of the congressional districts where I have lived (Pinellas County, FL), correctly pointed out the discontinuity between the Administration’s claim that it supports nuclear energy and the legal decision that resulted in overturning the Waste Confidence Rule when the Yucca Mountain repository license process was abandoned. As Gus stated, and Macfarlane attempted to deny, the Yucca Mountain decision removed the court’s confidence that there was any progress being made on a permanent repository, which in turn invalidated the Waste Confidence Rule, required the start of a new, resource consuming process at the NRC, and stopped the awarding of any new licenses or license extensions for a period of several years.
Committee Chairman Shimkus is apparently passionate and well versed in the way that the torpedoing of Yucca Mountain removed the court’s confidence in the Waste Confidence Rule.
The last questioner at the hearing was Congressman Bill Johnson from Ohio. After the hearing I looked him up; I was not at all surprised to learn that he was a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. It was evident from his demeanor and his focus that he had some experience in dealing with recalcitrant troops who had fallen short of accomplishing their assigned mission. I hope you enjoy watching his lecture as much as I did.