Yucca Mountain

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) member Gregory Jaczko has been chosen by President Obama to be the next Chairman of the NRC. Before joining the NRC’s commission, he served as Senator Reid’s science policy advisor and also served as congressional science fellow for House Member Edward Markey. When first appointed to the commission in 2004, Reid said, “I am pleased we were able to reach a deal that places a strong, independent voice on the NRC while ensuring that nearly a hundred other federal posts will be promptly filled.”

Reid’s stance on Yucca Mountain, the geologic repository in his state to permanently store waste, is fairly well known. Needless to say, Jaczko’s confirmation as an NRC commissioner was quite controversial.

Jaczko, who forecasts long delays ahead for US nuclear energy development, recently acknowledged, “We now find ourselves making some of the same mistakes of the past.” As Chair of the NRC, there’s a number things Jaczko can lead the commission to do that will increase the chances for a successful nuclear renaissance in the United States. Chief among these are:

Continue the Review of Yucca Mountain: Federal law states that a high level nuclear waste repository be built at Yucca Mountain. Unfortunately, anti-Yucca Mountain political pressure has plagued the nation’s nuclear waste disposal program nearly since its inception. The NRC should make a conclusion whether Yucca is viable based on science and technology and independent of politics.
Develop an Expedited Process for New Reactor Permits: The current schedule dictates that the NRC take four years under a best-case scenario to permit a new power plant. The NRC collaboratively with Congress should develop an expedited process for applicants that preemptively meet certain conditions.
Develop a Faster Process for Reactor Design Certification: A reactor design must be certified by the NRC before it can be used in a new power plant. This process should be streamlined, without sacrificing quality or safety, to allow for more efficient certification.
Open Up to New Technologies: The NRC is currently very adept at regulating light-water reactors (the type of reactor in the U.S.) in a relatively slow growth environment; however, it is not prepared to efficiently regulate a diverse, growing, market-driven industry that could produce reactors both large and small. This becomes an obstacle to the introduction of new technologies. NRC must be reformed to allow for more competition within the nuclear industry.
Begin Rulemaking for Reprocessing: While a geologic repository is crucial under any scenario, growth in nuclear power will likely necessitate that the U.S. also develop a reprocessing capacity as well, to help manage spent nuclear fuel. While the private sector should determine if such a facility is needed, the NRC should begin the rulemaking process now. .

For a list of Jaczko’s previous speeches and testimony, go here.