June 23, 1998
Mr. Lake H. Barrett
Office of Civilian Radioactive
U.S. Department of Energy, Headquarters
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585
Dear Mr. Barrett:
It has come to my attention that the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management does not intend to seek public review and comment on the Viability Assessment that is planned to be released later this year. In a recent statement to the press, Allen Benson, as spokesman for the Yucca Mountain Project, is quoted as saying, "the viability assessment wasn't intended to include public comment."
This decision by OCRWM is inconsistent with the general policy of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, that often has led your office to describe the high-level waste program as "the most open program in the world." The Act has established the general pattern that most statutorily required documents, whether considered "decision documents" or not are offered for public review and comment prior to formal release. The Viability Assessment is such a document, having been required by the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 1997 to be completed by September 30, 1998.
Examples of such statutorily required documents, pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, are the Environmental Assessments, required by Sec. 112; the Site Characterization Plan, required by Section 113; the Secretary's site recommendation report, required by Section 114; the Monitored Retrievable Storage facility site selection proposal, required by Sec. 145; and, to a limited extent, the Mission Plan, as required by Section 301.
Many external affected parties and individual members of the general public are familiar with the current status of the Yucca Mountain Project, and would welcome an opportunity to review and provide their insight on elements of the four principle topics of the Viability Assessment: the critical elements of the waste package and repository design; the repository total system performance assessment; the plan for the remaining work necessary to complete a license application; and an estimate of the cost of licensing, constructing, and operating a repository.
The need for and value of public review and comment on pre-decisional documents has been pointed out to the Department of Energy by nearly every internal and external panel and group that has looked into the issue of how to improve trust and confidence in the Department's actions and decisions. The development of the Yucca Mountain Viability Assessment represents an excellent opportunity for the OCRWM to demonstrate its leadership in the important process of determining whether to proceed with the project as currently conceived by the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste management.
Therefore, on behalf of the State of Nevada, affected units of local government, and the general public, I am requesting that the Viability Assessment for the Yucca Mountain Project be issued as a draft for public review and comment for a 90 to 180 day period prior to submission of a final Viability Assessment to Congress and the President.
If you have any questions about this request, please contact me.
cc: Governor Bob Miller
Nevada Congressional Delegation
Legislative Committee on High-Level Nuclear Waste
Secretary of Energy
Affected Units of Local Government