Posts Tagged ‘DOE’
FORMER DOE YUCCA DEPUTY DIRECTOR DERIDES JACZKO PR EFFORT AS “ALICE-IN-WONDERLAND QUALITY”: CALLS IT “AT BEST DISINGENUOUS AND AT WORST BORDERS ON PARTISAN ADVOCACY”Thursday, October 28th, 2010
In a letter to the editor made available independently to Nuclear Townhall, former U.S. Department of Energy official Lake Barrett – commenting on a letter widely distributed by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to news media outlets in defense of his decision to shut-down the agency’s Yucca Mountain license application review – says “the chairman’s letter has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to it in which facts are turned upside down and the truth disassembled, requiring any knowledgeable reader to suspend total disbelief.” Barrett served as Deputy Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management over two decades.
Platts is reporting via agency spokespeople that the U.S. Department of Energy and Office of Management and Budget feel hornswoggled by Constellation Energy’s late Friday afternoon withdrawal by letter from the Obama Administration’s loan guarantee sweepstakes for a new nuclear reactor at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs nuclear site.
The White House and the US Department of Energy were purportedly "on the verge of
offering UniStar a new set of loan-guarantee terms," Platts says.
"On Friday, as DOE received this letter, literally, almost simultaneously, DOE and OMB had a whole new set of modified terms to go back to them with," OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer told Platts. "This was very surprising to us, because we were in the middle of a dialogue with them, and they seemed to cut it off."
"We hope that Constellation, or their other business partners in this project, will consider moving forward and working with us in [continuing to find] terms which are good for them and good for the taxpayer," Baer said.
Baer’s DOE counterpart, spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller echoed the sentiment to Platts. "We were surprised to get the letter about Constellation dropping out of this process since DOE has been working closely with them on this complex transaction and even on the day they sent this news had a modified set of loan terms that responded to the concerns they had," Mueller said.
In another development Platts is reporting via Senator Jeff Bingaman’s spokesman, Bill Wicker, that "although DOE has made great strides in improving the process in the last year, there still are too many steps of review with OMB and Treasury; those two agencies simply are not coordinating well enough."
This week, as reported first in Nuclear Townhall, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko instructed the agency’s staff to begin closing down the U.S. Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain application, based on a subjective interpretation of a single paragraph in the agency’s proposed 2011 budget, which has not yet been enacted by Congress.
Closing down the application means that a purportedly near-complete Volume 3 of the NRC response may never see the light of day. Volume 3 deals with “post-closure safety” over the one-million-year time frame requirement. Word from NRC sources says that the report is favorable toward this critical facet of the Yucca Mountain project, but that may never be fully known.
Closing down the application in this fashion means the chairman is acting alone rather than with the consent of the other commissioners. The full commission (one of the five commissioners has recused himself) is supposed to be voting on whether to accept or reject the recommendation of the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB), which voted unanimously in June to reject DOE’s license application withdrawal request, saying it was not justified under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Closing down the application by fiat is an end run around the ASLB. It also means the NRC will be pulling the rug from under the lawsuits filed in opposition to termination of the Yucca project by Aiken County, S.C., the State of South Carolina and the State of Washington, where testimony has been temporarily suspended awaiting the Commission’s vote on the ASLB. In a filing with the NRC late yesterday, the parties asked the Commission to reverse the Jaczko action.
In brief, the chairman, acting alone, is short-circuiting the regulatory and legal process. It’s no secret that Jaczko owes his appointment to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has devoted much of his Senate career to keeping the nation’s nuclear waste repository out of Nevada. Is Jaczko simply facilitating the mission of his longtime benefactor? Or, as other Yucca Mountain detractors say, “What’s the difference? Yucca Mountain is dead anyway. These are all legal niceties.”
Yet there’s far more at stake. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has built a reputation for fairness and transparency — an attribute that is critical to the future of the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance. Some of the loudest protests are coming from former employees and officials who say the NRC’s integrity is being compromised. So what’s the verdict? Is Chairman Jaczko politicizing the NRC? What are the implications? Or is it naïve to expect that any federal agency won’t eventually be politicized?
Two former federal government officials have criticized Chairman Gregory Jaczko, charging he is politicizing the commission’s mission and compromising its integrity.
The comments came in response to yesterday’s Nuclear Townhall story reporting that Chairman Jaczko has instructed the agency staff to begin closing out the Department of Energy’s application to open Yucca Mountain based on an ambiguous paragraph in the proposed 2011 Federal Budget, which has not yet been adopted by Congress.
“I believe what the chairman is doing is an illegal suppression of NRC staff scientific work for election political purposes,” said Lake Barrett, who served as Deputy Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management during the Clinton and Bush II Administrations. “This is a clear corruption of the technical independence of NRC staff and undermines the political independence of the NRC organization. I worked at NRC for 11 years and was senior executive there, and to my knowledge such crass political interference has never occurred like this ever before.”
Barrett said that halting work on the license application is clearly illegal, since the five-member commission has not yet ruled on the Atomic Safety Licensing Board unanimous rejection of DOE’s decision to withdraw the license application. “The Commission itself has not acted,” said Barrett. “The Congress has not approved the DOE or NRC budget request. Even the NRC budget request that is being cited as justification [NUREG 1100 Vol. 26 pages 94 & 95] does not provide any basis for stopping work, because the license application has not been withdrawn. The paragraph clearly states `Upon the withdrawal or suspension of the licensing review, the NRC would begin an orderly closure of the technical review …..’ The license application has not been withdrawn and Congress has not changed anything.”
As reported on NTH yesterday, Chairman Jaczko instructed the staff to begin closing out the Yucca application with the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1. The chairman’s office of public affairs gave slightly conflicting interpretations of how this has come about. Eliot Brenner, director of public affairs, said the closedown effort had just begun. “It’s something new with the fiscal year.” But David McIntyre, a staff advisor, said the closeout was a continuation of an effort begun last year. “The staff has already been doing some of this for some months. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds,” he added.
Charles Haughney, a career NRC staff member who retired in 2000, said he too felt Chairman Jaczko was politicizing the NRC in an unprecedented fashion. “I find it peculiar that he can take a budget document that hasn’t even been adopted by Congress and use it like that,” said Haughney, who served as Deputy Director of the Spent Fuel Project Office during the 1990s. “It seems to me the best thing the chairman could do would be to release the application documents for full public disclosure before shutting things down.” Haughney said reports from within NRC indicate that Volume #3 of the NRC review, which deals with post-closure safety, would be favorable toward the repository. “If that’s the case, it’s going to be difficult to swallow for people who are opposed to Yucca Mountain.”
Haughney also questioned whether the NRC could begin shutting down the application without informing either the Atomic Safety Licensing Board or the District of Columbian District Court, which has a legal case pending against the shutdown. In June, the ASLB voted unanimously to reject the Department of Energy’s withdrawal of the license application on the grounds that it did not have proper scientific justification. The full five-member commission has the power to reject the ASLB recommendation but has not yet acted. Rumors within the NRC say that Jaczko does not have the votes to overturn the recommendation.
Several states have also filed in D.C. Court to block the withdrawal, based on the argument that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the federal government create a permanent repository. Testimony in the case has been temporarily suspended, awaiting the outcome of the NRC’s review of the ASLB decision. “I don’t see how the NRC can begin closing down the Yucca application without first informing the court,” said Haughney.
South Carolina officials, who are party to the lawsuit, also found this objectionable and have fired off a letter to the court and the NRC objecting to the action.
Chairman Jaczko served on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s staff before being appointed to the NRC at Reid’s behest. President Obama elevated Jaczko to chairman after his election. Reid’s promise to close down Yucca Mountain has been crucial to his hard-fought campaign for re-election this year.
Using an interpretation of a section of the 2011 budget not yet adopted by Congress, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has ordered his staff to begin a “close-down” of the review of the Department of Energy’s license application –- even though the Agency’s final decision on a license withdrawal request and Congressional appropriations are still up in the air.
The NRC staff is using pages 94 and 95 of Nuclear Regulations 1100, Volume 26, as a guideline: “Resources will support work to the orderly closure of the NRC’s licensing activities.” The paragraph goes on to refer to “archiving material, completion of some technological work, knowledge capture and management, and maintenance of certain electronic systems to support these efforts.”
In plain language, this means NRC is closing the books on DOE’s application to develop Yucca, originally filed in 2008. The Obama Administration asked for withdrawal of the application this March, saying Yucca was no longer needed. Several states are appealing the DOE’s action in court. In June, the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB), a division of the NRC, also rejected the application withdrawal request, saying that DOE did not have authority to do so under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and had not given sufficient scientific justification for abandoning the project. The five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission has power of review over the ASLB recommendation but has not yet voted on the matter, which has been pending for 99 days. Reports from within the NRC suggest that Chairman Jaczko may not have the votes to reject the ASLB finding.
Jaczko has a particular motive for pushing on with the Yucca close down. A former staff member for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he was appointed NRC chairman – according to some reports – specifically for the purpose of closing down the Nevada facility in Reid’s home states. Reid is currently locked in a hard-fought effort to retain his Senate seat and proof that Yucca is actually shutting down would give a big boost to his campaign.
Jaczko’s authority in operating on a budget resolution that has not yet passed Congress is obviously a judgment call. “This may be not as dramatic as its sounds,” said David McIntyre, a spokesman for the NRC’s office of public affairs. “The agency staff has already been at work on the transition to a post-Yucca scenario for some months.” The public affairs office speaks only for the chairman and does not represent the other four commissioners.
“We just entered the new fiscal year on October 1,” said McIntyre. “The guidance given to the staff has been that with respect to high-level waste, it should follow the FY 2011 budget plan, even if the rest of the agency is operating on 2010 levels.” Congress has not yet adopted a 2011 budget but is operating on a continuing resolution for the 2010 version.
Are the steps now being taken to close the Yucca application reversible? “That’s not immediately clear,” said McIntyre.
The other four commissioners were not immediately available for comment.
Half the nation’s fleet of 104 reactors have now had their original 40-year lifespans extended to 60 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now, a new possibility has opened – could their operating life be extended to 80 years?
"Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials, Energy Department counterparts, utility executives and research leaders are scheduled to meet in February for a ‘tabletop’ conference on the technical and regulatory issues that could confront a new wave of relicensing applications by reactor owners," according to an excellent report by Peter Behr of Energy and Environment.
At DOE’s request, technicians from Constellation Energy will make a special effort to look for signs of aging in the steel and concrete components of two upstate New York reactors, Ginna and Nine Mile Point, when they close for refueling next year.
"DOE is supporting research into extended reactor life, as are nuclear plant operators through the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an industry research and development organization," according to E&E. "An industry-created international research program, the Materials Ageing Institute, based in France, is also stepping up."
In a way, the DOE/NRC effort is one bell weather with respect to the U.S. Renaissance. Just a decade ago, there were projections that new reactors might be coming online by 2014 – which, according to current projections, is when demand may be picking up again with a recovering economy. However, Vogtle, in Georgia, is the only project that has received approval for early site clearance and the reactor to be built there – the Westinghouse AP1000 – hasn’t yet been accorded approval from the NRC. (There are several AP 1000s, on the other hand, under construction in China.)
Extending reactor life beyond 60 years also has its challenges. Aging reactors can be subject to pipe leaks and concrete deterioration. And as Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek demonstrate – notwithstanding Gold Standard safety and quality and high capacity operations as a whole — issues with the current fleet of operating reactors can be used by detractors as ammunition against a U.S.nuclear energy expansion.
Still, developing new techniques for extending the life of reactors could bring us closer to Alvin Weinberg’s vision that nuclear reactors can can be made permanent. "We’ve built Medieval cathedrals that have lasted 700 years," Weinberg used to say. "Why can’t we do the same with nuclear reactors."
On February 22, 2010, just 21 days after the U.S. Department of Energy formally announced it would suspend the Yucca Mountain national nuclear spent fuel and high-level waste repository project in Nevada, the first of a bevy of lawsuits seeking to overturn the action was announced by three state of Washington businessmen.
Just nine days later, on March 3, the Department filed a license withdrawal request with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (ASLB). A month later, on April 6, the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board – in the face of mounting legal challenges and interventions relevant to the DOE action– announced it was freezing consideration of the matter to await guidance on the matter from U.S. Court of Appeals proceedings. Less than 17 days later, on April 23 – without waiting for their newest colleague, Commissioner George Apostolakis, who was scheduled to be sworn in just hours later – the Commission vacated the ASLB decision and ordered the Board to render a decision on the DOE withdrawal request in 39 days or less (June 1).
Twenty-eight days after the June 1 deadline, the ASLB issued a unanimous decision rejecting DOE’s license withdrawal request. Less than 24 hours later, in an unusual action, the Commission set immediate ground rules for an appeal of the decision requesting briefs from interested parties by July 9, just nine days later. On July 15, just six days after parties to the proceeding filed a motion seeking the disqualification of three commissioners based on their Senate confirmation hearing testimony earlier in the year, freshman Commissioner Apostolakis recused himself citing other considerations.
In a process that has been defined by days and hours for the most part, it is now 86 days and counting since the ASLB’s June 29th ruling and the initiation of the Commission’s review of the lower panel’s decision. The full Commission has now exceeded the 39 days they initially provided to the ASLB to sift through considerably more complicated issues. Meanwhile the U.S. Court of Appeals , which was scheduled to begin oral arguments on September 23 on the mountain of legal contentions now filed in the matter, has put a hold on the proceedings awaiting a Commission determination. In just six days, the Yucca Mountain project will be in purgatory with the expiration of the fiscal year, a likely continuing resolution and given a DOE edict that it will terminate all remaining employees in the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management on September 30.
The Commission’s delay with regard to an ASLB verdict has lead to much conjecture in Capitol Hill, legal and nuclear policy circles. Does the NRC Chairman – a former disciple of chief Yucca Mountain antagonist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — lack the Commission votes to override the ASLB? Was he waiting to get a consensus on an updated waste confidence rule, which was consummated on September 15? Or for conspiracy theorists is he seeking to help his old boss’s up-hill re-election campaign by deferring a possible affirmation of the decision to reject the DOE license withdrawal until after the November 2 election or until Congress leave towns town for its elections recess? Or for the more charitably-inclined was Jaczko just concentrating on his keynote speech on September 22 to the 54th International Atomic Energy Agency Conference on the scintillating topic of “The Essential Role of the Safety Regulator?”
During the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus purportedly fiddled while Rome burned. One authoritative source claims there wasn’t a fiddle to fiddle at the time – although perhaps he was playing a lyre. Other revisionists suspect that the story was invented by Nero detractors who took power shortly thereafter.
Years later, Clairol’s hair color advertisements famously touted the tag line – “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” So perhaps while only Chairman Jaczko knows for sure, what’s your view? Thus far, in the Nuclear Townhall poll on the subject, 63 % believe the NRC is delaying the decision until after the election; 14% feel the Commission should take as much time as they need ; 9 % say they are deadlocked. A 2-2 vote by the eligible Commissioners would effectively rebuff a reversal of the ASLB decision.
The small modular revolution may be gaining traction. After years of frustration, Hyperion Power Generation of California has secured a memorandum of understanding that could lead to building a demonstration model of its 75-MW small modular reactor (SMR) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Hyperion, and spin-off from the Sandia National Laboratory, has had a gazebo-sized reactor on the drawing boards since 2006 but has been frustrated by the uncertainty of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensee review.
The NRC has since tried to initiate some new procedures, however, approval of SMRs is seen by most analysts as still five-to-ten years away.
“This is one of the first in a series of steps that can put this region in an active role toward transforming America’s energy future,” said Garry Flowers, CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which operates SRNL under contract from the DOE. “Small and modular reactors can become the primary base of new, clean power for the world. SRS is an ideal place to develop and demonstrate this exciting technology.”
Senator Lamar Alexander has also suggested that Babcock & Wilcox could demonstrate its SMR by building one to power the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. At present, Oak Ridge – a leading nuclear research center since the Manhattan Project – is powered almost entirely by coal.
The Pentagon — which has been warm to things nuclear including, most recently small reactors as part of its move away from fossil fuels and toward energy self-sufficiency — has emerged as the latest impediment to expansion of wind generation according to the New York Times.
The Times reports in today’s paper (Wind Turbine Projects Run Into Resistance) that "moving turbine blades can be indistinguishable from airplanes on many radar systems, and they can even cause blackout zones in which planes disappear from radar entirely. Clusters of wind turbines, which can reach as high as 400 feet, look very similar to storm activity on weather radar, making it harder for air traffic controllers to give accurate weather information to pilots."
And while there hasn’t been a documented result to date of this cause and effect, the House Armed Services Committee has been told that — in certain arenas, such as in the proximity of air bases — wind turbines are "an unacceptable risk to training, testing and national security," according to the Times’ narrative.
In 2009, it is alleged that "9,000 megawatts of wind power projects were abandoned or delayed because of radar concerns raised by the military and the Federal Aviation Administration" — more than the aggregate domestic deployment of wind in the same year.
The Pentagon — which is already heavily engaged in several conflicts (such as Afghanistan and Iraq) — is now also pitted "in direct conflict" with the Department of Energy’s stimulus injected multi-billion dollar checkbook for wind power. This comes at a time when the DOE is itself fighting another "menace" — bureaucracy; a couple weeks ago the department’s inspector general reported that less than 10 percent of one of DOE’s key renewables portfolios has been expended since the February, 2009, stimulus recovery act.
An Idaho National Laboratory researcher calls the Pentagon-DOE stand-off "the train wreck of the 2000s" spelled-out as "competing resources for two national needs: energy security and national security." It is not clear whether 2000s means the decade of the 2000s or the 21st Century…