The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's handling of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste dump provoked a fight between top House Republicans and Democrats today as the GOP accused Democrats of interfering with a congressional probe of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko's handling of the issue.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Environment and Economy Subcommittee, accused Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of compromising the subcommittee's Jaczko probe by releasing emails that are part of the investigation during the hearing today. Waxman is the ranking member of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
"I think he was trying to prejudice the investigation," Shimkus said of Waxman's release of the emails.
"What he did was unconscionable," Shimkus said. "We're in the discovery process right now. It only started last week."
The Energy Department moved to pull its application to develop Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository after the Obama administration pulled support for the project. In June, NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said the government could not pull the application unless Congress directed otherwise.
DOE appealed the board's decision to the full NRC panel, and the agency is in the process of making a recommendation on whether or not the government can pull its application. Under NRC procedures, the results of a vote are not made public until a staff guidance is developed based on the votes and the commission passes a final order.
Lawmakers are questioning why the commission has not yet formulated its policy decision and whether Jaczko stalled the decision to keep the issue out of the news until after last November's midterm elections. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a leading opponent of the project, was locked then in a tight re-election battle.
Republican NRC Commissioners William Ostendorff and Kristine Svinicki and Democratic Commissioner William Magwood said today they believe their votes last year on whether or not the government could pull its application were "final." A majority of the commission has not yet been able to agree on a response to the board's decision, and Jaczko said he is working toward a consensus and working through the agency's rules to reach a decision.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) initiated an investigation in March into possible impropriety and illegality of Jaczko's actions on Yucca Mountain.
Republican staffers said NRC and DOE are in the process of providing documents requested by Upton. They said Republicans and Democrats had agreed not to divulge the documents because it could obstruct or effect the investigation.
But Waxman said the subcommittees had obtained emails circulating among NRC officials from October and September of 2010 that questioned whether Jaczko was acting illegally on the issue.
Specifically, he said, Dan Graser, NRC's licensing support network administrator, sent at least one email questioning whether Jaczko had violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in shutting down NRC's Yucca Mountain review.