The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology has released a report of its findings on the politically motivated budgetary maneuvers that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko employed to starve his own staff of the funds required to complete their legally mandated review of the DOE Yucca Mountain repository application. He took that action despite Congressional appropriations and without the agreement of his fellow Commissioners.
Here is a key quote from the press release issued by the Committee to introduce its report into the public conversation about nuclear energy and used fuel disposal:
Most noteworthy in this regard is the 695-page Volume III of the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report (SER). Obtained by the Committee only after repeated demands and over the objections of the NRC Chairman, SER Volume III demonstrates in excruciating detail the level of technical support among NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) experts in favor of the site’s advancement. Overall, the NRC staff review concluded that DOE‘s Yucca Mountain License Application complies with applicable NRC safety requirements necessary for the site to proceed to licensing for construction.
The report strongly urges the Administration provide to Congress the relevant and necessary information related to the Yucca Mountain decision process, allow formal completion of the Safety Evaluation Reports, and bring the DOE’s Motion to Withdraw its license application to a vote before the full commission.
The full report is a 9.0 MB PDF file titled Yucca Mountain: The Administration’s Impact on U.S. Nuclear Waste Management Policy Here is a quote from the Executive Summary:
Why, then, has the President shut down the Yucca Mountain Project? And why does NRC Chairman Jaczko refuse to permit NRC safety review of the site to continue, and refuse to allow his fellow Commissioners to formally vote on DOE‘s Motion to Withdraw the Yucca Mountain License Application? The answer is clearly not explained by or based on any scientific or technical evaluation.
While the specific instances of concern uncovered by the Committee and detailed in this report are convincing in and of themselves, they collectively reveal not just a pattern, but a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related processes in order to shut down Yucca Mountain.
As I read through the volley of letters between the House Committee and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I was struck by the attempts by Chairman Jaczko to engage in resistance using what appeared to be legalistic language. Since I have done some research on his career and resume, I am wondering how I missed his attendance at law school. (That is sarcasm. Unlike at least one of his fellow Commissioners who is a full member of the bar, Chairman Jaczko has about as much legal training as he does nuclear training. All of it is apparently OJT “on the job” in political staffer jobs where the depth of exposure is rarely more than “once over lightly”.)
I wonder if there is any precedent for taking personal legal action against an agency chairman for purposeful violation of laws that direct his professional obligations? Establishing such a precedent might help provide political appointees with the backbone required to refuse to follow illegal orders, even if they come from the person who appointed them. As it stands now, our constitutional democracy’s system of checks, balances, debate, negotiation, procedures and oversight can be manipulated by the actions of individuals with questionable motives and those individuals are not held legally accountable for their actions.
That needs to change; our system of government is not imperial, individuals have protected rights, but the rights of individuals in positions of responsibility are bounded by law so that they do not take away the rights of the people for whom they are working.