Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Bombshell Testimony" From Ex-DOE Employee On Yucca Mountain

Jun 8: Calling it "bombshell testimony," the House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans issued a release saying that during last week's Environment and the Economy Subcommittee hearing, Chaired by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), on "The Department of Energy's Role in Managing Civilian Radioactive Waste," [See WIMS 6/1/11] "witnesses revealed that Energy Secretary Steven Chu simply ignored the technical components of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository when withdrawing the project's license application."
    According to the release, Christopher Kouts, a former 25-year DOE employee who served as acting director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management and was the point person for the Yucca project, testified that "Secretary Chu ignored technical experts when withdrawing the repository's application. This nuclear insider said DOE's decision to shut down Yucca Mountain was disturbing given the scientific and technical consensus that the site would meet stringent safety regulations." Kouts
retired in early 2010, after 35 years of Federal Service. House Republicans indicated that Kouts' testimony comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report [See WIMS 5/11/11] that found "social and political opposition to a permanent repository, not technical issues, is the key obstacle." (See link below).
    In his written testimony, Kouts said, "My testimony should be viewed from the perspective of an individual who lived through the experiences of the program [i.e. the Yucca Mountain Project], during virtually its entire existence, and observed how the program and its surrounding policy environment evolved over many years." He said any new process to find an alternative nuclear waste disposal site would experience even more problems than the Yucca Mountain process, primarily because of the Internet and instant communications and the 24/7 news cycle. He also said the Yucca Mountain legal opposition has also established a model of delay that will be repeated.
    In conclusion he said, "Because the development of Yucca Mountain has been such a contentious and protracted process, it is being suggested that only consensual siting of these facilities should be pursued. I would submit to the Subcommittee that the U.S. and international experience in this area proves otherwise. In my discussions over the years with the Directors of repository programs abroad, they have consistently expressed their concerns that, due to the very long timeframes repository programs take to develop, any political consensus at the beginning can evaporate with one election, just as it has in the U.S. with Yucca Mountain. At the end of the day, implementing a repository program requires steady, consistent, national leadership.
    "In closing, beside its questioned legality, the Administration's decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain Project is disturbing because Yucca Mountain has not failed any technical or regulatory test. The site has not failed in the NRC licensing process. The thousands of scientists and engineers and others that worked on the project over the years believe, as I believe, that the site would meet the stringent regulations of the EPA and the NRC and assure that these materials would not adversely impact future generations and the environment. Given the substantial investment this Nation has made in the site and in the policy that has been supported by every prior Administration since 1982, I believe the Nation deserves a final and definitive answer regarding Yucca Mountain from the NRC licensing process."
    On May 13, the President's Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America's Nuclear Future held a day-long meeting in Washington, DC, and released its draft recommendations from subcommittees on: Reactor & Fuel Cycle Technology; Disposal of Nuclear Waste; and Transportation and Storage of Nuclear Waste. The draft recommendations indicate in part that, "The United States should proceed expeditiously to develop one or more permanent deep geological facilities for the safe disposal of high-level nuclear waste. Permanent disposal is needed under all reasonably foreseeable scenarios. Geologic disposal in a mined repository is the most promising and technically accepted option available for safely isolating high-level nuclear wastes for very long periods of time." [See WIMS 5/16/11].
    The BRC recently released the draft Transportation and Storage Subcommittee report and the draft Disposal Subcommittee report for public comment. The Commission notes that, "These draft reports of the subcommittees represents the work and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) to date. It is important to note that we expect these documents to continue to change and take form as they are merged to create the draft report of the full Commission, and ultimately the final report. The BRC has taken the past year to hear official testimony and public comment, and will continue to do so as these reports are released. The Reactor and Fuel Cycle Technology Subcommittee will be releasing its draft shortly."
    According to the BRC draft reports, "A draft of the full Commission's main report will be released by July 29, 2011 in accordance with the schedule set out in our charter. To be considered as the Commission develops the first public draft of its main report, comments on this Subcommittee report must be received by July 1, 2011. All comments will be made publicly available on the Commission website. Any comments received after July 1st will be considered as the Commission prepares its final report, which is due to the Secretary of Energy by January 29, 2012."
    Access the House Committee Republican release with video clips of the Kouts testimony (click here). Access the Kouts written testimony (click here). Access the Republican hearing website for background, statements and testimony (click here). Access the Democrat's hearing website for background, statements, testimony and a webcast of the complete hearing (click here). Access the GAO report (click here). Access the BRC website for the latest reports and information (click here). Access links to the draft BRC reports, related information and a commenting link (click here). [*Haz/Nuclear]