As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, The Heritage Foundation today obtained the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Yucca Mountain Volume III Safety Evaluation Report (SER). This document is critical because it contains the NRC’s conclusions regarding the scientific and technological merits of the Department of Energy’s application to construct and operate the high level nuclear waste repository.
The NRC’s assessment should be the final word on the whether or not the Yucca facility could be safely built and operated; hence its conclusions have been much anticipated. Therefore, we were terribly disappointed that both the executive summary and the report’s conclusions have been redacted.
The NRC defends its decision to redact this information on the basis that the document is predecisional and not commission policy. That is because NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko ordered a stop to all review activities last year, so the NRC staff’s work and conclusions never had the opportunity to be vetted. This ensured that the work that the commission staff had undertaken over the previous two years—which culminated in the SER that was obtained today—would be stopped before the commission could affirmatively approve its conclusions. This allows the NRC to now say that the conclusions should not be made public because they were not completely vetted. The NRC’s official justification is at the end of this post.
The problem with this assessment is that it does not respect the context of the Yucca Mountain issue. Given the controversial nature of the debate, the billions of dollars spent on Yucca Mountain, and the project’s importance to the nation’s energy future, the NRC should have figured out a way to give the public access to the staff’s conclusions. Not doing so forces policymakers, the public, and other stakeholders to form opinions based on an incomplete data set. And while the staff conclusions may not represent a final SER, much less commission policy, they would have gone a long way to inform the public debate over Yucca.
And ultimately, that is why the decision to redact the most critical parts of the SER is so disappointing. Despite what Senator Harry Reid (D–NV), Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, or President Obama say, the debate over Yucca is not over, and keeping information out of public view does not change that.
We have not yet had the opportunity to pour through the 700 pages of the SER Volume III, but we will spend the next 24 hours doing exactly that. We will report our conclusions soon. Stay tuned.
NRC Explanation of Redacted Material
The NRC, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, today made public redacted drafts of Volume 2 and Volume 3 of the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report for the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev. These documents will be publicly available in the NRC’s ADAMS online database later this afternoon (we hope) by searching for accession number ML110480651.
The NRC is making these documents available as part of its commitment and responsibilities under FOIA. These are predecisional draft documents that have not undergone management review. As such, they are not official agency documents and have been redacted in accordance with FOIA withholding criteria to exclude material that could impact the adjudicatory process.
It is important to note that even a final SER would not amount to a licensing decision; the SER would have to be adjudicated before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board conducting the Yucca Mountain hearing (with nearly 300 contentions admitted), before a final licensing decision could be made by the Commission.