Closing Down a Unique NRC Facility

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.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

4 thoughts on “Closing Down a Unique NRC Facility”

  1. It seems presumptuous of the NRC to shutdown thee Las Vegas hearing support facility, the LSN, and remove accessible links from key Yucca Mountain Documents from the website. Last time I looked, there’s an active DC Circuit Court case that could result in a mandamus order to resume the Yucca Mountain adjudicatory proceeding. The NRC presumption seems to be: 1) the Court won’t tell us to do anything; 2) if the Court did tell us to resume the hearing, we’ll claim we have no money.

    The first presumption is imprudent, since the NRC cannot predict with any certainty how the DC Circuit will rule. The second presumption seems to be a game of “Hide the Peanut.” In this case, the “peanut” would be all the unspent appropriated Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) dollars that the NRC has not spent, including its NWF carryover funds. Just where is all that money, anyway? NWF dollars are fenced, so they cannot be internally reprogrammed to other NRC programs. It’s very hard to imagine how all the NRC’s recent NWF appropriations could have been spent with the greatly reduced level of effort during the recent fiscal years. To name just one obvious example, the staff was funded to participate actively in a heavily contested licensing hearing, a proceeding that has been stalled for many months. It would be helpful, if the NRC could provide the public with a clear accounting of the expenditures and transfers of its NWF dollars over the last five fiscal years.

  2. The NRC will review any license application it receives. However, the Department of Energy considered outer space disposal back in the ’70s and rejected it because the risk of the rocket blowing up and spreading radiation over a large area was considered too high.

  3. In September 2008, NRC accepted the DOE Yucca Mountain Waste Repository application for review. This started the 3-year schedule set by Congress to reach a decision on whether to approve construction of Yucca; however, this can extended by 1-year. The 3-year deadline is this month and it is obvious that the NRC will not make a decision this month. Has the NRC notified Congress that the NRC will extend the deadline by 1-year?

    On June 29, 2010, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision that denied Department of Energy’s motion to withdraw the Yucca application. On June 30, 2010, the Commission Order requested participants to file briefs.

    On August 10, 2010, NRC staff issued SECY-10-0102, “U.S. Department of Energy (High Level Waste Repository), Review of LBP-10-11, Docket No. 63-001-HLW,” to the Commission for its review and vote.

    In August 2010, the Commission started casting votes. Chairman Jaczko voted in August 2010 but then withdrew his vote. The remaining Commissioners (except for Commissioner Apostolakis because he recused himself) voted by September 15, 2010. Chairman Jaczko finally voted on October 29, 2010, for SECY-10-0102, completing the Commissione’s notational voting process on the Yucca matter; however, the Commission has still not held an affirmation vote on the matter.

    All these documents were once on the NRC website, but now have been removed. Why? Is it too embarassing to think the Commission is too incompetant or too political to make a decision on Yucca Mountain since June 2010? How long can the Commission be dilatory in this matter? Chairman Jaczko worked for Senator Harry Reid and Chairman Jaczko has not recused himself for conflict of interest and Commissioner Apostolakis recused himself because he reviewed a Yucca Mountain calculation. Why has Chairman Jaczko not recused himself from the Yucca Mountain matter?

  4. Spent fuel rods in salt mines,in ceramic beads in tunnels,in thorium reactors in the US? Would the NRC license the intra space transport of spent fuel rods to a distant resting place outside the Milky Way?

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