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US: "McLicensing" for nuclear power companies?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 29, 2001) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is attempting to change its rules in a manner that would drastically reduce public participation rights in nuclear licensing hearings.

(551.5296) NIRS - 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 US 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.

The rule change proposes to "deformalize" public interventions by replacing trial-type public hearings with "informal" hearings. 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.

Comments on the proposed changes must be submitted to the NRC by 14 September 2001. For more information on the proposed rule changes and how to oppose them, contact Paul Gunter at NIRS.

Source and contact: Paul Gunter, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, 1424 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, US
Tel: +1 202 328 0002;Fax +1 202 462 2183