Morning Briefing - October 18, 2018
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October 18, 2018

NRC Hits Pause on Search for Yucca Mountain Hearing Site in Nevada

By ExchangeMonitor

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is suspending its search for sites in Nevada that could host hearings on the license application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository until the agency has a better idea regarding whether it will need such a facility.

The NRC in 2005 began leasing a facility near McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas that would host the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) adjudication after the regulator in 2008 received the Yucca Mountain license application from the Department of Energy. However, the NRC’s ASLB Panel in 2011 dismantled the facility after the Obama administration suspended the adjudication.

The Trump administration has sought to revive the licensing process, though it has not yet persuaded Congress to provide the necessary funding for the NRC or DOE. Nonetheless, the commission last year directed staff to look for potential venues in Nevada and study whether a “virtual courtroom” could be set up at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., that would allow remote participation.

The General Services Administration said the federal government does not presently own or lease facilities in the Nevada municipalities of Las Vegas, Reno, or Pahrump that would meet the NRC’s needs for hearing space. The GSA could look for available commercial space, but would prefer to do so within six to 12 months of the time the venue would be needed, given the “changeable nature of the commercial real estate market,” according to an Aug. 16 memo to the commission from Secretary to the Commission Annette Vietti-Cook.

“Concerning the possible Nevada hearing facility, in light of the cost of undertaking the next step of instituting a search for available commercial space and the limited shelf life of the information produced, as well as the current uncertainty about the timing of any restart of the [high-level waste] adjudication, we recommend that further action be deferred until there is more certainty about the timing of the need for a Nevada-based facility,” Vietti-Cook wrote.

In notational votes taken through last week, the five commissioners concurred with that recommendation.