Yucca Mountain findings challenged

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans on Tuesday challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's inspector general over his finding that the NRC's chairman did nothing illegal in his role in ending plans for the Yucca Mountain repository.

Inspector General Hubert T. Bell said last week that the chairman, Gregory Jaczko, had been wrong to mislead fellow commissioners. But he said that the law gave the chairman special duties, and that Jaczko was acting on the basis of his interpretation of this authority.

Hanford's spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste was planned to go to Yucca Mountain, Nev., until the Obama administration moved to end the project after $15 billion had been spent. Used commercial nuclear power fuel also was planned to go to Yucca Mountain.

Funding for the project was cut and Jaczko has delayed a decision on the withdrawal of the repository's license application, leaving it in limbo.

Jaczko was guilty of "outright malfeasance" because he misled fellow commissioners and senior staff, said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that held Tuesday's hearing. Shimkus noted that Bell's report last week, the result of a seven-month investigation, had found that Jaczko didn't fully explain to all the commissioners that a budget cutback would mean ending consideration of the Nevada site.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told Bell he disagreed with the inspector general's finding that Jaczko didn't violate the law.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the committee's chairman, alleged that Jaczko "devised a complex, calculated strategy to kill the license application without consideration by the commission."

President Obama appointed Jaczko the chairman of the NRC in 2009. Jaczko had been an aide to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who opposed putting the repository in his state.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Jaczko "did what any permitting office would do when a building plan is canceled. He stopped spending money processing the permit."

Markey said that over the decades, other powerful members of Congress also had insisted that their states not get the waste dump.