NRC questions new evidence from state
By Richard Trout
Hobbs News-Sun
May 26, 2004

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still opposing the contentions raised by the state Environment Department after the agency attempted to submit more evidence in its petition to intervene in the hearing process for Louisiana Energy Services.

Although the NRC can make recommendations to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, this board is ultimately responsible for deciding whether contentions are valid during a hearing process for a $1.8 billion uranium enrichment plant near Eunice. Because the Office of the Attorney General and Environment Department are state agencies, these groups were automatically granted standing in the hearing process after submitting petitions.

"The (NRC) staff contends that the reply filed by NMED improperly seeks admission of new evidence and contentions and, thus, should not be considered by the Board in ruling on intervention," stated a document the NRC issued Monday to the licensing board.

Environment Department spokesman Jon Goldstein said the NRC's recommendation does not mean the state will rest in pursuing its contentions. "We continue to believe the points we have raised are valid ones and we will continue to push them. We just have to wait until we hear what the (Atomic Safety and Licensing Board) decides," Goldstein said.

On May 20 the NRC approved standing for the only other group that petitioned to intervene in the hearing process - the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, which filed a joint petition with Public Citizen. Both groups are based in Washington, D.C.

To gain standing, the term for speaking at a licensing board hearing, a petitioner must have at least one admissible contention and must show it would be affected or harmed by a nuclear project.

Regarding the requirement of being directly affected by the project, the two Washington, D.C., groups have about 10 members who live near the proposed plant site, including several who live within a few miles of it. There is no requirement stating that these groups' members must live within a certain number of miles of the project.

A pre-hearing conference is set to take place in the Hobbs area June 15, though a specific time and place for the conference has not been determined. The conference is not expected to last more than two days. The Environment Department had filed on May 10 its reply to the NRC's earlier rejection to its contentions, but the NRC stated the department did not provide appropriate evidence.

"When this Board granted NMED an extension of time in which to reply to the answers of the staff and LES, it explicitly noted the Commission's direction that replies should be focused on the legal or logical arguments raised in the responses by the staff and applicant. ... Contrary to those explicit directions, the reply submitted by NMED fails to focus at all on issues raised in the staff or LES answers.

Instead, NMED seeks to introduce entirely new information and expert opinion under the guise of a reply," the NRC document stated.

In its petition to intervene, the Environment Department contended LES may store uranium byproduct throughout the 30-year life of the plant despite this not being acceptable to the state "and contrary to the representations made by LES to the state."

The petition also claimed LES's proposed plan to store byproduct is not sufficiently detailed and does not demonstrate the issuance of a license would not hurt the health and safety of the public. The NRC called this contention vague with unsupported allegations in its initial reply, and in its second reply stated the department had not focused on the legal or logical arguments presented in LES's application or the NRC's initial reply.

"NMED has again failed to note any specific issue with the LES application that would support the admission of this contention," the NRC document stated.

The NRC also said the Environment Department improperly sought the introduction of two new contentions in its revised petition by arguing that these were part of its initial byproduct contention.

"NMED's reply, however, which attempts to include two new contentions by broadly re-framing the original contention, is not the proper avenue to seek admission of late-filed contentions," the NRC document stated.

Other Environment Department contentions the NRC had previously recommended the licensing board should reject include:

A contention that LES may classify the byproduct as resource material rather than waste material. A contention that information regarding the economic viability of the proposed plant has not been given.

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