Jan. 28, 2003

New Chair of Key Nuclear Review Board Prompts Concerns About Objectivity on Yucca

Statement of Lisa Gue, Senior Energy Analyst, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meets today amid concerns about the objectivity of its newly appointed chair, Dr. Michael Corradini, and his impact on the future of the board’s work. Corradini was appointed last June by President Bush with four other new board members to serve as part of the 11-person panel responsible for independent technical and scientific evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) work on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Following the decision of Congress last summer to allow the project to move forward, the DOE must now apply for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build and operate the repository. This is Corradini’s first meeting as chair since the former chair departed.

Over the past several years, the review board has been a rare source of unbiased technical review of the controversial Yucca Mountain proposal, which in other respects has been highly politicized and inappropriately influenced by the powerful nuclear industry lobby. Demonstrating its independence from these obvious political pressures, the board last year cautioned Congress about the technical basis for the DOE’s repository site recommendation, calling it "weak to moderate." The board’s commitment to objectivity has been invaluable in providing a credible review of DOE technical activities, educating Congress and building public trust.

This trust is threatened by Corradini’s appointment because of his perceived conflicts of interest. At the time of his appointment, he was on the expert speakers list of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the lobbying organization that spearheads the nuclear industry’s pro-Yucca campaign. A vocal proponent of the commercial nuclear industry, Corradini also chairs the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Engineering Physics, which, shortly after Corradini’s appointment, received a lucrative DOE grant to promote the study of nuclear engineering. In 2001, Corradini endorsed the Yucca Mountain dump in testimony before U.S. senators.

To be credible and objective, the board’s membership must be balanced, if not impartial. The appointment of a chair who not only has clear ties to both the DOE and nuclear industry but also has publicly endorsed the Yucca Mountain project calls into grave question the commitment of the Bush administration to the board’s independence. At this crucial juncture, we urge the president and the board to maintain its credibility as an objective review panel.