McLicensing For Nuclear Power Companies
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is attempting to change its rules in manner that would drastically reduce public participation rights in nuclear licensing hearings. In commenting on the NRC's proposed "streamlining" of the public hearing process, Corbin McNeill, chief executive for nuclear giant Exelon, told the Wall Street Journal "It's maybe 1% to 10% what it used to be." As McNeill points out, stripping the democratic process from public hearings on nuclear safety has become the new selling point to investors considering building more atomic reactors.
At the urging of the nuclear power industry, the NRC is proposing to go beyond its current "one-step" licensing process and push the public entirely out of any kind of meaningful licensing hearings. For the first time in regulatory history, all reactor licensing proceedings-including the initial licensing for new reactors, license extension for aging reactors and license amendments to reactor safety procedures could be conducted under expedited hearings where the public's due process to legally challenge reactor licensing issues is systematically eliminated. By rulemaking, the NRC is trying to reinterpret the statutory mandates of the Atomic Energy Act for what is traditionally recognized as a community's right to formal trial-type hearings. Under the proposed rule the Commission would have "flexibility" to entirely eliminate the public's basic right to a formal hearing.
How the Proposed Rule Would Change NRC Public Hearings
The rule change proposes to "deformalize" public interventions by replacing trial-type public hearings (Chapter 10 of the Code of Federal Regulation Part 2 Subpart G) with "informal" hearings (Subpart L). These informal hearings would be stripped of key due process procedures, such as mandatory discovery of documents for the disclosure of opposing evidence and cross-examination to confront witnesses on statements of fact. The rule would also make it even more difficult than it is now to get a NRC hearing. Once a contention is admitted, hearings would be expedited and participation rights would be drastically curtailed, so as to make the hearing meaningless.
the proposed NRC rule change
1. Creates a new Subpart C Hearing Selection Process. This new subpart consolidates all previous hearing procedures under one general subpart to apply to all NRC adjudications and leaves to the Commission's discretion placement of petitions into specific hearing "tracks" under Subpart G (formal proceeding), K (irradiated fuel storage expansion), L (informal hearings), M (license transfer) or a new Subpart N (fast track). Virtually all reactor licensing would be channeled into informal hearings except those that, according to the NRC, "involve a large number of complex issues." The NRC hearing process for licensing a nuclear waste repository (10 CFR 2 Subpart J) would remain a formal proceeding due to the agency's astute recognition that a move to informal hearings would likely "engender substantial opposition" and a "very negative reaction." Ironically, NRC has chosen to ignore the same process concerns and eroding public confidence in expediting its approval process to generate more nuclear waste through fast track reactor licensing. Let's make sure the NRC understands the "substantial opposition" and "very negative reaction" its reactor licensing proposals are causing!
2. Alters the submission of contentions. Under current rules, after filing a petition for a hearing, intervenors generally have a period of a month to familiarize themselves with the application and formulate "contentions" that describe and provide documented support for the public safety concerns. As a result of a 1989 rule raising the admissibility standard, it is already difficult to get contentions admitted for hearing. Under the proposed rule, intervenors would have to submit their contentions almost immediately after the publication of a hearing notice-- giving the public virtually no time to review the nuclear industry's application, draft contentions and hire expert witnesses to help them formulate contentions. Thus, the proposed rule would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the public-including state and local governments--to even get a hearing.
3. Eliminates the procedures of discovery and cross-examination. Under the current rules, parties are entitled to request a range of relevant documents otherwise not available through the NRC Public Document Room. At the hearing, the right to confront adverse witnesses through cross-examination is guaranteed. Under the new informal process, the amount and quality of information accessible to the public would be restricted to what NRC staff and company officials deem relevant to be placed in the NRC Public Document Room. Oral cross-examination and the line of questioning by the public intervenor would be eliminated and replaced with written questions submitted as suggestions to the presiding officer to ask at their discretion.
What You Can Do
1. Submit comments to the NRC by September 14, 2001 by mail to Secretary, NRC, Washington DC 20555. Or use the interactive website at http://ruleforum.llnl.gov
NIRS will be publishing model comments on our website at http://www.nirs.org
2. Encourage others to comment. The threat by the proposed rule to our democratic process regarding health and safety issues calls for a massive public outcry, from governmental, civic environmental and other groups. Urge them to get involved. Write to your newspaper.
3. Contact your Congressional representatives and state government. The public is entitled to full and meaningful participation in a hearing process that provides for a complete record. The nuclear industry should be required to defend its proposals in formal public hearings, as Congress intended when it passed the Atomic Energy Act in 1954. Ask your Senators and Representative to advocate for an accountable energy policy that protects the public's democratic participation in NRC hearings on the risks and hazards posed by nuclear power.
Your Comments Are Needed By September 14, 2001