As the NRC wraps up operations at its Las Vegas Hearing Facility, let’s take a look back at how the agency decided where to put the facility and how it was used.
The NRC’s longstanding policy on hearings calls for them to be held near the proposed facility, when possible, and that the hearings be open to the public (except where classified or security-related information requires a closed session). When the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) began working in 2000 on activities related to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, it was obvious the agency should look for a location near Yucca Mountain, in southern Nevada.
The NRC also had to account for several other factors:
• Congress directed the NRC to take no more than four years to review an application to build and operate Yucca Mountain;
• The potential for many parties and technical issues to be involved in any hearing on Yucca Mountain application;
• Agency rules on leveraging information technology to conduct the Yucca Mountain hearings as efficiently as possible; and
• Providing a secure, dedicated venue for those involved in what was anticipated to be the largest and most complex hearing in NRC history.
Las Vegas was clearly the best choice to meet these needs, but the city’s existing federal and commercial facilities didn’t have available space. So, the NRC spent two years budgeting and planning a facility to conduct the hearings.
The NRC worked through the General Services Administration to lease an appropriate building, at competitive rates, for the mandated three-to-four year Yucca Mountain review period, including options to extend the lease if necessary. The agency also heeded public calls for expanded access to the hearing by making the facility TV-friendly and adding videoconferencing and webcasting capabilities. Because of delays in the completion of the Department of Energy’s license application, the facility was finished and available well before that department submitted its formal Yucca Mountain license application in 2008.
In addition to Yucca Mountain-related sessions, the NRC has used the Las Vegas facility to host regional-based outreach meetings and other agency activities. ASLB staff used the facility to support the board’s field hearings in other Western states, and the staff supported the Licensing Support Network, which made tens of millions of pages of technical documents available to the public
Since the current federal budget process has closed out support for review of the Yucca Mountain application, the NRC is being financially responsible by terminating the facility’s lease. While the technology installed at the facility did provide an unprecedented level of public access into the agency’s activities, after six years of technological advances the computer equipment is fully depreciated. Any equipment that is still usable is being transferred to other NRC offices or other federal agencies, or is being donated to Las Vegas-area schools.
Public Affairs Officer