June 13, 2017

Cortez Masto, Heller, Raise Concerns about Pending Nuclear Regulatory Commission Nominees

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) today submitted a joint statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works ahead of a hearing on the nominations of Kristine Svinicki, Annie Caputo, and David Wright to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the independent agency responsible for licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.

“We recognize that the nominees considered before the Committee today have a history and record of strongly supporting moving forward with the Yucca Mountain repository. We remain hopeful that the nominees, if confirmed, approach this issue without any pre-existing bias and conflicts of interest. Furthermore, we look forward to questioning the nominees at a later date on these issues to ensure that they are fully aware of the hundreds of contentions filed by our state on this ill-conceived project,” the senators wrote.

 The NRC is headed by five Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate for five-year terms, and one of them is designated the chairman and official spokesperson of the Commission. Kristine Svinicki currently serves as the chairman and her nomination is a reappointment.

The senators’ full statement for the record is below:

Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Carper, we appreciate the opportunity today to raise our concerns regarding the pending nominations to be Members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

While we recognize that for some moving forward on the Yucca Mountain repository is just an issue of enacting law, for Nevadans it is an issue that is critically important to the safety, security, and economic well-being of the state.  Nevada has made clear since the beginning that they do not want, and never will want, a permanent nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. It is a physically unsuitable site that would not only endanger the health and safety of Nevadans, but threaten our economic revitalization.  We remain extremely concerned about the actions of this Administration, the Department of Energy, and Chairwoman Svinicki to restart the licensing process without looking at all viable options.

Consent must be at the center of any conversation related to depositing nuclear waste, especially when there are safer and more cost-effective alternatives.  This is why we have authored bipartisan, bicameral legislation, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, to allow for the construction of a nuclear waste repository only if the Secretary of Energy has secured written consent from the governor of the host state, affected units of local government, and affected Indian tribes.

Our proposal is consistent with the consent-based siting initiative to site waste storage and disposal facilities initiated by the Department of Energy in late 2015.  This open process ensures that states have a meaningful voice in the process and that no state will be forced to accept nuclear waste against its own will.  Identifying communities that are willing to host long-term repositories, rather than forcing it upon a state that strongly opposed such a site for decades, is the only viable solution to our nation’s nuclear waste problem. 

Failure to do so will only make the problem worse at a greater cost to the American taxpayer.  The Department of Energy has estimated that $15 billion has already been spent on Yucca and that $82 billion more would be needed to finish the relicensing, infrastructure, transportation, operation, and decommissioning of the site.  This is in addition to the significant safety and environmental concerns with the project.  We remain deeply concerned about the dangers of transporting this high-level nuclear waste along the proposed waste transportation routes.  We’re looking at shipping 9,495 rail casks in 2,800 trains, and 2,650 trucks hauling one case each to Yucca Mountain over 50 years. 

And, even putting aside the site’s vulnerabilities to corrosion and groundwater contamination, lack of state consent, and transportation concerns, the site would not be available to receive waste for decades.  We believe there is growing support for consent-based interim storage sites that could address waste storage concerns in a shorter period of time and a lower cost to the taxpayer.  We strongly believe this process should not be held up by attempts to re-license a repository at Yucca.

We recognize that the nominees considered before the Committee today have a history and record of strongly supporting moving forward with the Yucca Mountain repository.  We remain hopeful that the nominees, if confirmed, approach this issue without any pre-existing bias and conflicts of interest.  Furthermore, we look forward to questioning the nominees at a later date on these issues to ensure that they are fully aware of the hundreds of contentions filed by our state on this ill-conceived project. 

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and we look forward to hearing from the witnesses today.