DOE funds communities to learn about used fuel storage

22 September 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has invited interested communities to apply for a share of USD16 million for resources to help them learn more about consent-based siting of used nuclear fuel management and interim storage. Meanwhile, the State of Nevada is seeking a resumption of the licensing procedures for the Yucca Mountain repository - with the aim of securing a permanent end to the project.

An aerial view of Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Image: DOE)

The department is working to create a consent-based approach to siting an interim storage site for US used nuclear fuel. The move represents a re-start of the federal programme after plans for a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada were dropped in 2009.

"Producing safe, reliable nuclear energy here at home is key to reaching President Biden's clean energy goals, and DOE wants to advance the discussion of how communities can best host a variety of nuclear facilities," said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "With this funding, we are facilitating constructive, community-based discussions around the consensual solutions for storing spent nuclear fuel in order to harness the true power of clean nuclear energy."

Up to eight awardees will be funded over a period of 18 to 24 months. Recipients will advance mutual learning within a community, provide ease of access to information, and foster open discussions, DOE said. The funding will support tasks in three areas:

  • Organisation, leadership, and maintenance of meaningful, inclusive community engagement processes related to the management of spent nuclear fuel.
  • Identifying public values, interests, and goals to promote and enable effective collaboration and community-driven feedback on the consent-based siting process for a potential consolidated interim storage facility.
  • Developing, implementing, and reporting outcomes and strategies that support mutual learning among stakeholders, communities, and experts on spent nuclear fuel-related topics.

"While DOE is not soliciting volunteer sites to host consolidated interim storage facilities as part of this funding opportunity, the department hopes to encourage engagement, open dialogue, and building capacity among interested stakeholders and communities about the consent-based siting process," it said.

The DOE is responsible for providing a disposal site for nuclear fuel under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. In 1987, Yucca Mountain was named by the US Congress as the site where a federal repository would be built, and the DOE submitted a construction licence application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008. However, plans for the repository were dropped in 2009 and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminated licensing activities for the repository in 2010-11.

A resumption of federal efforts to meet these obligations was marked by a December 2021 request for information (RFI), in which the DOE asked the public for feedback on the consent-based siting process itself. In the findings from that RFI, published earlier this month, DOE noted the need for "strong and trusting relationships" to underpin a successful consent-based siting process.

Nevada seeks closure on Yucca Mountain process

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak and the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects have filed a legal motion with the NRC in which it asks for the adjudicatory portion of the licensing procedures for the Yucca Mountain waste repository be resumed - so that the state may take specific additional steps aimed at stopping the project permanently.

"The proposed Yucca Mountain repository is now an unfunded zombie-like federal project that has staggered around the halls of Congress begging for appropriations support for more than a decade with no success," the filing states. " Nevada believes strongly that the time has come to put this long-dormant and unproven Federal project out of its misery so that Nevada can devote its attention and resources to other matters and the United States can move on to consider other more viable solutions for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste."

"It is time to take the lessons learned from the Yucca Mountain experiment and chalk them up to experience," Sisolak said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News