Yucca Stalemate Biggest Disappointment at NRC: Commissioner William Ostendorff

I interviewed Commissioner William Ostendorff who is leaving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the end of the month after serving at the agency since 2010. He’s returning to his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, to work as a visiting professor this fall.

In the interview, he said one of his greatest disappointments during his tenure has been the administration's decision to stop the license application process for Yucca Mountain as a long-term repository for high-level radioactive waste.

Bill Ostendorff NRC

(photo courtesy of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Here’s a brief preview of his frustrations about the Yucca Mountain stalemate in the Obama Administration.

Bloomberg BNA: What have been some of your biggest challenges at the NRC and how you attempted to overcome them?

William Ostendorff: It's been a challenge of the country moving forward with developing a geological repository for spent nuclear fuel. I was a senior official at the Department of Energy in 2008 when it submitted the license application for Yucca Mountain to the NRC. When I got here in April 2010, the Department of Energy had just submitted a motion of withdrawal of its license application for Yucca with our agency. I did not agree with the Department of Energy. I thought doing so would have been in violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

I'm not a zealot for Yucca Mountain. I'm not politically charged to move toward a Yucca Mountain, but I do know the nation needs a repository and I've been very disappointed in the lack of progress. I've said on many occasions, if the Congress and the administration do not like Yucca as a site, that's fine, go change the law. But right now, the law as it still stands says Yucca Mountain is a repository site.

I'm very proud of the work the NRC staff has done. In January 2015, they published a safety evaluation report for Yucca Mountain, which found that that site would meet all safety requirements out to 1 million years. We've also found in an environmental impact statement, the environmental impacts of the Yucca Mountain site would be small. So I'm hopeful that the country moves forward. The NRC has done its job, now it's up to the Department of Energy and administration to move forward here.

Bloomberg BNA: What are the next steps that need to be taken in order to move forward with Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository?

Ostendorff: The NRC has not had funding in recent years to move forward with the adjudicatory process. There are a number of contentions that legally we have to be dispositioned in a court room. I have continuously supported Yucca Mountain funding in my votes as an individual commissioner. I acknowledge that there's not been funding requested by the NRC and the administration.

So funding is the first step. With funding, we'd move forward to reconstitute the licensing board panels to look at the various contentions that have been filed in the case.

Bloomberg BNA subscribers can read the remainder of the interview at Ostendorff: Yucca Stalemate Biggest Disappointment at NRC.