Energy, NRC to scrap 13 years of planning


The Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
found that if a system project bogs down long enough--in this case 13 years--technology
likely will find a better way.

So now, after years of fits and starts, an NRC-DOE panel is looking at tossing out
plans to build a Licensing Support System in favor of using the World Wide Web to process
DOE's application to operate a high-level radioactive waste disposal site.

LSS was conceived as a central mainframe database system with a custom software
application that users would tap to exchange and search for documents in an expected
three-year licensing process for DOE's Yucca Mountain disposal site in Nevada. Estimates
for developing the system ran as high as $183 million.

But off-the-shelf technology has caught up with the project, LSS administrator Moe
Levin said. "You can see this in what is going on in the World Wide Web."

Search services commonly used to survey millions of documents stored on diverse Web
sites meet the functional requirements of LSS, said John Thoma, section leader in NRC's
Division of Waste Management. "Why should we have DOE design custom software to do

The proposal was raised at the May 2 meeting of the LSS Advisory Review Panel in Las
Vegas held to reconsider the project--now five years overdue.

Original plans drafted in 1984 called for LSS to be operational in 1991, NRC associate
general counsel William Olmsted said.

"Since that didn't happen, and the advantages it was supposed to bring to the
discovery and litigation process didn't occur, we needed to rethink the direction,"
Olmsted said. "One of the things that is available to us now that was not available
in 1984 is the World Wide Web."

NRC could adopt the new plan by a rule change if it accepts the proposal.

DOE is developing a repository for disposal of high-level nuclear waste under Yucca
Mountain in the Nevada desert. The facility will be open for 60 years beginning in 2003.
DOE will need a license from NRC to operate the site, and regulators anticipate a lengthy
litigation phase as part of the licensing process.

"Somebody or other would feel they are entitled to some type of proceeding, and
LSS was to provide the database to support that," Olmsted stated.

The licensing timetable set in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 called for a
three-year process, with 18 months devoted to litigation. This is an ambitious schedule,
considering that licensing of nuclear generators typically involves two to three years of
litigation, Olmsted said.

Much of the time savings in the Yucca Mountain schedule was supposed to come from the
electronic access to documents from a central repository.

LSS would have been a proprietary dial-in system, Olmsted said.

"In 1991 it would have been very useful to have that," he remarked. "By
1993 it would have been obsolete."

Web technology now allows transfer of documents and searching of multiple databases to
retrieve information. Data for the project can be stored easily on a few Web servers.

"Storage has gotten so dirt-cheap that you don't have to worry about
storage," Olmsted said.

Levin noted that "there is no need for a central repository to make the
information available. Why go to the pain of feeding all of that data to one place if
everybody already has electronic systems" capable of this?

Levin added that DOE, which will be providing about 85 percent of the information used
in LSS, now has capability to make that information available on the Web. Other parties
making up the Advisory Review Panel, which also includes representatives from the state of
Nevada, several Nevada counties and members of the nuclear industry, either now have or
could easily acquire PCs and Web tools to access the documents.

The details of putting such a litigation support system on the Internet have not been
worked out yet. Thoma warned that "questions such as security have yet to be
resolved.People are a little bit leery,"

But he added that the advantage of allowing each party in the licensing process to
administer its own database rather than feed information into a single database created by
DOE may help to ease some of these concerns.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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