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September 23, 2014

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The Policy Racket

GOP launches probe into allegations over Yucca Mountain

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Karoun Demirjian

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko answers a battery of questions pertaining to Yucca Mountain from members of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment May 4, 2011.

Updated Wednesday, May 4, 2011 | 9:07 p.m.

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WASHINGTON — In the nearly 30 years that members of Congress have been duking it out over a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, lawmakers have respectfully reserved their political punches.

But as Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, a subcommittee chairman, renew a push to develop a dump in Nevada, they’re pointing an accusing finger at the nonpartisan body whose duty it is to review Yucca Mountain’s licensing, and accusing its chairman of illegal political collusion and malice.

“We are beginning an investigation and this, today’s hearing, is not going to be the end of this,” Upton said at a hearing Wednesday at which four of the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, including Chairman Gregory Jaczko, were testifying. “We’ve just started to scratch the surface.”

It’s a bold tactic that seems partially born out of concerns about internal tensions in an important regulatory body, but heavily focused on discrediting the one agency that seems all but poised to dismantle the Yucca Mountain repository before it can actually usher the project out the door.

The Republican lawmakers’ focus on the commission began in late March when they sent Jaczko a letter requesting he submit documents for an investigation into “the decision-making process related to the pending license application for construction of a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain.”

What they hoped to prove, through documents that have started to pour in, is that Jaczko was using his position to stall, marginalize and influence votes against Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. That was all supposed to stay secret, though — until ranking Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman of California blew the lid off it at the hearing.

“Rep. Shimkus has alleged your decision is illegal and political at the highest level,” Waxman said to Jaczko. “Do you think you violated federal law by directing staff to close down review?”

“No,” Jaczko said.

“Did you delay action on Yucca for political purposes?” Waxman said.

“I made a decision to have the staff stick to the timing that they had previously indicated,” Jaczko said. “It was in no way a political action intended to reference any political figure or direction from any political view.”

Republicans decried the public unveiling of a clandestine investigation as “unconscionable,” with Shimkus adding that “it only emboldens the case that there’s something fishy going on here.”

The allegations of wrongdoing seem pointedly focused on Jaczko, who has led the commission since 2009. Before that, he served as top science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the two share opinions on the viability of Yucca as a dump site: Simply put, to them it isn’t.

That connection wasn’t lost on lawmakers Wednesday or in emails they’d been collecting — which weren’t made available to the public, except when Waxman read them.

One email, dated Sept. 7, suggested that Jaczko was delaying a decision on Yucca so that “Reid gets no bad news before Election Day.”

The last official decision the commission took was in June when its licensing board determined that Energy Secretary Steven Chu couldn’t unilaterally withdraw the licensing application. Then in August, commissioners filed preliminary opinions on the final status of the license.

Although those don’t carry the weight of a vote, commissioners testifying Wednesday were adamant that their written positions from last summer hadn’t changed — causing Republican lawmakers to wonder aloud why Jaczko was waiting for what seemed like a formality.

“The chairman, who is an honorable, decent man who’s been in my office a number of times and who I have great admiration for, appears to me to be playing some kind of a foot-dragging game,” Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton said. “He thinks on June 30 he’s going to apparently get a new commissioner who agrees with his position and can then issue this order.”

On that date, the term of Commissioner William Ostendorff, an Obama appointee, ends.

Ostendorff is one of two Republicans on the commission and the author of a proposal in October that is the only clue as to where the commissioners stand on Yucca. He proposed reversing Jaczko’s decision to close all work on the Yucca licensing, arguing that could only be done if the application was “withdrawn” or “suspended,” which it hadn’t been.

Commissioner Kristine Svinicki voted for it. The other three commissioners voted “no participation,” a noncommittal option that dodges a majority opinion, which is how the commission reaches its decisions.

That didn’t sit well with Republicans, who continued to build their case against Jaczko, characterizing him as the despotic ruler throughout the hearing. They criticized his tone in addressing their questions, his use of the pronoun “I,” his insistence on preserving the anonymity of commission proceedings and his request in March to fellow commissioners to avoid the nuclear monitoring center during Japan’s Fukushima crisis so that workers wouldn’t get distracted.

“You’re very opaque when you speak, Mr. Chairman,” Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy said to Jaczko. “I really get a sense that there’s a lot that’s unspoken here.”

Added Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry: “I think we have now found the most secretive agency or commission on Capitol Hill. Perhaps this is a politically run organization now.”

It was clear from the meeting that the commissioners were not one big happy family, but neither were the congressmen, as Jaczko attempted to defend himself.

“I see internal tensions, but I haven’t heard the commissioners make any of the charges that the chairman made,” Waxman said.

As for the Nevada delegation, they’re ignoring this new focus on the commission.

Reid dismissed Wednesday’s hearing as “nothing more than a forum for a small group of radical pro-Yucca zealots to make ridiculous assertions in a misguided attempt to breathe life into a project that’s never going to see the light of day.”

“It is time for proponents of Yucca Mountain to move on,” Republican Rep. Dean Heller said. “The fact that Yucca Mountain is a threat to public safety should be enough to terminate this project, but given our nation’s dire financial situation, it makes little sense to keep spending taxpayer dollars on this ill-conceived project.”

“When Yucca was selected, it was not based on science, it was based purely on politics ... as now,” Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley said. “I think Mr. Shimkus needs to get a life. And he also need to get an alternative” to Yucca Mountain.

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  1. Republican's wasting money...again.

  2. Pure hate against Nevada. Where are Republicans Heck, Heller and Sandoval? SHAME! Why won't they stand up for their state?

  3. "'This isn't going to go away,' Barton warned Jaczko. 'Yucca Mountain is controversial, but it's not impossible.'"

    It's controversial for one and only one reason.

    The collective efforts by Republicans who want to make money off of this and keep pushing for the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) to continue.

    They collectively want to follow policies enacted when Nevada was weak political back in the 1980s. The "Screw Nevada Policy" is still in effect.

    And, by the way, who the hell is this Rep. Barton (R-TX) to talk anyway? Let me refresh everyone on the fact that this despicable man actually apologized in a hearing to representatives from British Petroleum for the unmitigated gall of America getting seawater on their precious oil! For some reason, Rep. Barton seems to think the mega-catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon sinking in the Gulf of Mexico and release of tons and tons of oil and resulting loss of eleven lives has faded from our memories. America will never forget what that brain dead idiot said in a hearing, to the horror of everyone.

    In other words, Rep. Barton works for the corporations. And, if he gets his way, he will totally screw Nevada and turn it into a nuclear waste port-o-let toilet.

    "Jaczko disagreed, likening the Yucca project -- which he asserts doesn't exist -- to safety regulators pushing for building a shopping mall project long after developers decide to call it off."

    Exactly. He is trying to save the government some money, but the brain dead fiscally conservative Republican Party....don't care.

    They want to make money off of this. And the very idea of wasting money from Rep. Shimkus' recent costly visit at YMP, all the way to piling up court costs, hiring battalions of lawyers and scheduling neverending court time for lawsuits? It don't matter to them knuckleheads. They stand to reap big money from this. But Nevada will get nothing but misery, suffering and totally be taken advantage of...all so other States can get rid of their crap and throw it at Nevada.

    I'm so glad people are standing up for Nevada and fighting them bastards.

    Only when they run out of money and rhetoric will this nonsense stop.

    Nevada keeps up the fight. We have President Obama and Senator Reid to thank for it.

    If it makes the righties so mad they can't see straight, it's too bad. Live with it. YMP is dead.

    But I encourage those that keep wanting it to happen to keep spending money and wasting it. Only when they realize they aren't being fiscally conservative, maybe Tea Bagheads will dogpile on them and set them straight. By the way, where are them idiots at? They want to save money, right? THIS is their cause to grasp. But no. It don't fit in with the incredible idiocy of Republican Party policy of pandering to corporations and the filthy rich. So the rabid dogs are leashed and muzzled. Because it don't fit in with their stupid view of America. Hypocrites.

  4. Yucca Mountain should be revived for the good of the nation, as nuclear power is the only salvation for producing the electricity this nation not only needs now but in the future. Yucca Mountain can help this national goal.

    I can understand Nevadans opposing the Yucca Mt. project because it only continues the image of Nevada as some kind of aberration on the American landscape. Well, people, WHAT KIND OF IMAGE do you want Nevada to have? To think your state is a place of houses with picket fences and images out of "The Music Man," is unrealistic.

    Suddenly, we are not a state with Las Vegas, legalized prostitution, gold and silver mining? (I have no truck with legalized prostitution. Far from it.) But, you guys have to deal with the fact that 80% of your state is owned by the Feds. That's due to your geography, which is mostly desert. Take the Bonneville Salt Flats, for example, which have gained some notoriety for your state, as well. What I'm saying is, face some reality. Your state is not the typical U.S. state.

    Yucca Mtn. may well be perceived by you as only a dumping ground for nuclear waste. After all, the Feds used your state for the Nevada Test Site in the 50s, where Yucca is located. Maybe you do not want Nevada to have the image of some kind of glow around it. I believe in time, nuclear power will no longer have that unfavorable image, as the demand for an environmentally clean technology to produce electrical power on the scale needed grows.

    The need for more electricity will grow. Other forms of that production are inadequate: hydro, solar, wind, etc.

    I live in Montana. I have proposed buried nuclear reactors be built in exhausted open pit coal mines in SE MT, instead of filling them in. Perhaps, Nevadans can demand the same thing on the former Nevada Test Site. Let Nevada & Montana be the sites of providing the electrical needs of this nation for decades to come, with nuclear power. Yucca Mountain can assist in this.

  5. Shutting down federal funding for stem cell research was based on politics.

    There were absolutely not one science based studied that was used in the decision making.

    (As much as it pains me to reprint the poor grammar, it had to be done.)

    Brilliant double standard, SgtCrock.

    Meanwhile, mred asks the $100,000 question...

    Are Heller, Heck and Sandoval just absolutely gutless? Why haven't they used their influence within their party?

    Oh, that's right. They don't have any influence!

    The NV GOP couldn't convince a child to eat ice cream.

  6. "Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee have launched an official investigation into allegations of illegal, improprietous and politically motivated decision-making at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over Yucca Mountain..."

    Oh, so they're going to go back to the 1980s decision that removed other sites for long term nuclear storage and left only Yucca as the site to be studied and eventually receive a dump. Wow, I'd love to see that dragged up so we can have a real evaluation of what to do with this nation's long term nuke waste! Real competition between sites, factoring in the advantages and disadvantages of each site and making a scientific, fact-based decision.

    "...This morning, they're redoubling the call, after what they say was a deliberate attempt by a top-ranking Democrat to sabotage their process."

    Oh no wait, this is just an attack on Harry Reid. Stop wasting our time with partisan games, douchebags.

  7. Nevader, the would-be home for America's WASTE!

    "We don't care WHAT KIND of crap you have; if you'll PAY MONEY, we'll take VIRTUALLY ANYTHING!
    Give us yer Nukes, yer garbage, yer effluence, yer solids, WE DON'T CARE! Heck, most of the state is a VAST, DESERT WASTELAND anyhow! We DO NOT PAY TAXES, so we have to pay the bills somewhow; heck, we can't FIRE EVER'BODY! (though we' surely like too!)

    Nevader's new License Plate Slogan:

    "America's Wasteland".

  8. Oh, come off it, gmag. Nevada is a great state. Like any state in the West, it is different from the Coastal & esp. the Midwestern states. And, that's to the good. It's over the top for anyone to think of NV as "America's Wasteland."

    All of us Western inland states have trumpeted how we're so different from "those other states." We're still the "wild, wild, West." We sucker midwesterners, easterners, yes, even Californers to our states to experience a lifestyle that still exudes (somewhat) the real birthplace of this nation, with all its cowboys, Indians, miners, showgirls, independent spirits that go along with that illusion.

    You may interpret Yucca Mt. as branding NV as a wasteland of America. All I'm saying to you is that's the wrong way to look at it. I'd like to think you have a better opinion of NV than that, even if Yucca went through. Hell, how many other states have sold their souls to the devil U.S. military (ship yards, military bases, etc.).

    In time nuclear will become a prime U.S. economic activity. In time nuclear will not be the bogeyman it is now, even w/ the Japanese experience, caused by forces no one even imagined. For example, the Japanese nuclear plant was subjected to the tsunami because the earthquake lowered that shoreline by 3 ft., overcoming all anticipated projections of effects from an earthquake.

    Get real, people. Get over your emotions. Yucca Mt. is good for NV. I'm a Democrat. I like Harry Reid, for that reason, but I will oppose him on this, because both he and you are far too emotional re: this issue, IMO.

  9. The PEOPLE OF NEVADA do NOT want the Yucca Mountain High Level Radio-active Waste Repository open and operational. Please listen!

    That is a fact. Nevada does NOT generate any high level radio-active waste. ZERO. Why should Nevada be the dumping ground for everyone else's waste? We DO NOT MAKE THIS HAZARDOUS WASTE NOR DO WE WANT IT. Please listen!

    Each state needs to be responsible for their own decisions. Please don't generate nuclear waste and expect Nevada to take care of you. Who is getting paid off to make such promises to these states on behalf of Nevadans? Names please.

    Shame Shame Shame to those who are again wasting precious time, energy, and resources trying to reopen the Yucca Mountain Repository thing!
    Shame Shame Shame