The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board plays a very important part in the agency’s consideration of requests for licenses to build and operate new facilities. The Board’s administrative law judges conduct independent hearings to consider arguments over whether the applications and the NRC’s reviews meet regulatory standards and comply with laws such as the Atomic Energy Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The judges then issue legally binding decisions on these matters.
Three Board judges held an evidentiary hearing last week to consider arguments by three citizens groups regarding a facility now under construction at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site. The NRC issued the U.S. Dept of Energy a permit, through the department’s Shaw Areva MOX Services contractor, to build the facility in order to convert plutonium from former nuclear warheads into mixed plutonium and uranium fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. The facility is being built as part of a US-Russian treaty to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in each country.
The citizen groups argue the facility cannot comply with NRC regulations to control and account for nuclear material. They say that the facility cannot track the plutonium going into the fuel accurately enough to properly account for it, and, therefore, some plutonium could be subject to diversion.
These arguments touch on very important requirements, but at the same time the arguments involve documents and live testimony on very sensitive information. Federal law and regulations require the Board and all the participants in the hearing to protect that information, so the Board held this hearing behind closed doors.
One of the citizens groups, Nuclear Watch South, was present at the hearing and all the groups participated fully through their lawyer and their expert witness. The three-judge panel expects to issue its decision in this case by the end of June.Scott Burnell Public Affairs Officer