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Hearing of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee - Department of Energy Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste


Location: Washington, DC

Hearing of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee - Department of Energy Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste


REP. DENNIS R. REHBERG (R-MT) (?): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Do I have you to thank for the jerky this morning? (Laughs.)

REP. VISCLOSKY: (Off mike) -- the tofu.

REP. REHBERG (?): The tofu, yeah. (Laughter.)

If you will bear with us, the three of us on this end of the dais would like to sing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to Mr. Hobson.

REP. HOBSON: No. (Laughter.)

REP. REHBERG (?): Being new to the committee, I'm not particularly familiar with the NRC's application process. Just exactly what does it entail as far as -- I understand the contentions and all -- are we talking about beyond the storage itself and the safety and the liability aspect? Are you talking EPA? Do you have -- are there other areas of responsibility in other agencies that you're going to have to coordinate?

And I guess the final part of my question would be, is there a streamlined permitting process? And I clearly understand you suggested that it doesn't matter how much money we spend, it's not going to get done any quicker. All I want to know is, you know, aside from the political aspect, is there something that can keep it from happening? Because any good bureaucrat can delay this thing for 10 years and any good politician can see that it never happens.

MR. SPROAT: Just so we're clear, we're talking about the Yucca Mountain licensing procedure for the NRC?

REP. REHBERG (?): Correct.

MR. SPROAT: The proceeding process -- the NRC's license application review process -- is very well documented and very well set out. It is what it's going to be. And it involves both a review of the license application by the NRC staff -- they will send us -- after they get the license application they'll send us questions -- or they're called requests for additional information. We will give them written responses back to answer those questions. At some point in time as that dialog proceeds the commission staff will write their safety evaluation report, where they evaluate both the safety of the operation of the repository while it's open and then the long-term evaluation of the safety of the repository after it's closed over a million-year period. So that's one part of the review process.

In parallel with that, parties who want to intervene in the proceeding -- state of Nevada will be one, there will be others -- they will submit what are called contentions to the NRC, where they will pick specific issues in the license application and say, "We don't agree with this," whatever the issue might be. The NRC then has hearing boards that are set up that are independent from the staff. They will review -- they will receive the contentions. We will have an opportunity to reply to them, say whether -- give some sort of reply to the hearing board. The NRC staff will have some chance to reply.

The administrative law judges will then decide whether or not to admit those contentions on the docket for hearings. And then for those contentions that are admitted there will actually be hearings, and the judges will decide either in favor of the staff -- the applicant, which would be DOE -- or the intervenors. When that whole process grinds to its eventual end, eventually there is a decision by the full commission itself as to whether or not to grant the license application.

Now, in terms of what would slow that process up, besides just the appropriations process, the DOE and the NRC, there are two things that have to happen. One is -- that are still not done -- one is, when the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was written it gave the Environmental Protection Agency the responsibility to set the long- term radiation limits for the repository. EPA issued a rule twice that's been remanded by the courts. And they're in the process of finalizing a revision of that rule. Until -- which has not been issued yet -- we keep hearing that it's going to happen soon, but we don't know exactly when. We don't need that standard to submit our license application. The NRC will need that standard issued in order to make a final determination that our repository design meets that standard.

REP. REHBERG (?): Okay. Isn't it true that Nevada did in fact back in the mid-'70s support this project?

MR. SPROAT: Yes, it is. In 1975 there was a joint resolution of the Nevada legislature signed by the governor that basically invited the Department of Energy to put the nation's high-level waste repository in Nevada in exchange for a solar energy facility.

REP. REHBERG (?): Have they done a commensurate rejection, or a change of that support?

MR. SPROAT: I would say -- I don't know whether or not they issued a formal resolution countermanding or withdrawing that, but once the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendment was passed in 1987, the state's official position is to be anti-Yucca Mountain and do everything in their power to stop it.

REP. REHBERG (?): In your mind, though, give me an estimate of federal dollars that have been spent in Nevada that in essence is an economic development component of their state.

MR. SPROAT: This program, over its life, which started with early site evaluations back in the '70s up until now, we've spent just about a total of $10 billion on the Yucca Mountain program. The vast -- not all of that has been in Nevada. However, the vast majority of it has, probably in the neighborhood of at least 6 to 7 billion (dollars).

REP. REHBERG (?): So now that they've changed their position there would be an opportunity for us to recoup that cost from the state of Nevada through their gaming revenue since they no longer support --

MR. SPROAT: I don't believe that's a legal or political option at this stage of the game. (Laughter.)

REP. REHBERG (?): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


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