WASHINGTON, D.C. The staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) today asked an adjudicatory board to conduct a licensing hearing for a proposed nuclear fuel refinery under a “protective order” which, if approved, would effectively make the entire proceeding secret and closed to the public, said Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).
“This proposal is an affront to the principles of citizen participation guaranteed by law,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.
NIRS/PC have contested the application of Louisiana Energy Services (LES), a multinational consortium led by the European firm Urenco, which is seeking a permit to construct and operate a uranium enrichment plant in southeastern New Mexico. The groups charge that the company’s plans fail to meet regulatory standards in the areas of radioactive waste disposal and need for the plant, among other things.
The NRC says its motion is a remedy to a situation that has made it impossible for parties in this case to meaningfully participate: On October 25, the NRC unilaterally blocked public access to virtually all of the electronic documents posted on its Web site pending a security review “to ensure that documents which might provide assistance to terrorists will be inaccessible.” Most of these documents remain unavailable to the public.
Without access to essential documents, such as communications between the applicant and the NRC, parties to the proceedingincluding the State of New Mexicoare left operating in the dark, unable to file timely and complete motions, briefs, and testimony in order to present their case before the ASLB. Pre-filed testimony is due Dec. 30, and the hearing is scheduled to begin Feb. 7, 2005.
The NRC Staff’s rationale for making this entire licensing case secret is that in order to meet deadlines in the context of the NRC security review, parties to the proceeding must enter into a non-disclosure agreement that would allow them access to essential documents while agreeing to keep these potentially “sensitive” materialsand thus the entire proceeding in which they are consideredclosed to the public.
“A real solution to the problem would be to suspend the schedule of the hearing until access to NRC files is restored, as NIRS and Public Citizen have asked the Board,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS. “Shutting the public out of the licensing process would violate NRC regulations, which require public hearings. It also would violate the public trust, which is served by open and transparent nuclear licensing proceedings. Such hearings are the major way the public can learn about the issuessuch as radioactive waste disposalthat arise from the proposed construction of nuclear facilities.”
Counsel for NIRS/PC issued a formal plea to the ASLB on Dec. 15 to suspend the schedule of the hearing until access to the hearing file is restored; formal responses to this motion are due today, but the NRC staff has filed a concurrent motion to make the case confidential.
“It is inexcusable that the NRC is attempting to circumvent public scrutiny in this case, and it sets a poor precedent for future licensing actions,” added Michele Boyd, legislative director for Public Citizen. “This unjust and inappropriate request ought to be rejected outright by the ASLB.”