As the end of Kristine Svinicki's term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approaches, the White House has announced that President Obama will nominate the Republican for another term. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is speaking out against the nomination, saying that Svinicki lied to Congress about her involvement in a controversial Department of Energy (DOE) project during her tenure there.
As Huffington Post recently reported, Reid’s spokesman said that the Senator opposes Svinicki “because she lied to Congress about her past work on Yucca Mountain,” a DOE nuclear waste repository project that was ultimately cancelled by Congress in 2011 after many years of opposition from Reid, among others.
It’s obvious that Svinicki was neither clear nor forthcoming about her involvement on the project during her 2008 confirmation hearing for the NRC. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in the hearing that she had concerns about Yucca Mountain due to public health risks, and she later asked Svinicki if she had worked on “transportation and waste disposal issues related to Yucca Mountain” during her time at the DOE’s Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Office. As Huffington Post noted, “Svinicki gave a drawn-out answer”:
I want to be as clear as I can with the committee. When I worked at the Department of Energy I was employed in what is called the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. That is the office established under law to administer and develop the geologic repository. My work was not in Las Vegas on the Yucca Mountain license application, it was in Washington, DC at the Department of Energy headquarters. I worked transportation packaging. As you had mentioned in your opening comments, the safe transportation of these materials is so important. Whether a geologic repository opens or not, we have to transport materials this week and every week very, very safely. I also worked on inventories of defense materials that may require deep geologic disposal. Those would be materials currently at Department of Energy sites.
Boxer asked again, “So you didn’t work directly on Yucca?” And Svinicki answered, “I did not.”
As Boxer’s spokeswoman reminded the AP last week, Svinicki not only worked on Yucca Mountain, but she coauthored a report called, “Acceptance of Waste for Disposal in the Potential United States Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.”
Boxer brought up the report in a June 2011 hearing on nuclear safety and asked Svinicki to explain herself. Again, Svinicki seemed to parse words, though she admitted she was involved with the project:
You asked me to characterize my work at DOE and my answer indicated that I had worked obviously in the Office of the Civilian Radioactive Waste Management which was well-known and was on my resume. And I indicated to you that I did not work on the Yucca Mountain license application. I worked on DOE waste inventories and transportation of materials in that program. And I drew that distinction in my testimony.
Boxer called Svinicki’s responses “troubling” and wryly noted, “When I summed up and said ‘So, you didn't work directly on Yucca?’ I didn't mean you're in the mountain taking tests on it.”
Svinicki’s confusing public statements about Yucca Mountain are troubling to us too and call into question her fitness for sitting on a commission that oversees issues as pertinent to public safety as nuclear reactors and radioactive material.
“It’s unacceptable for a presidential appointee to mislead Congress about her past work,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said. “Svinicki’s needlessly opaque responses about Yucca Mountain reflect a stunning lack of candor and should give the President serious second thoughts about her renomination as a Commissioner. There is no way the Senate should confirm her.”
Mia Steinle is a POGO investigator.
Image via NRCgov.