Yucca Mountain safety review complete

30 January 2015

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has published the final two volumes of its safety evaluation report for the proposed Yucca Mountain geologic nuclear waste repository, completing the technical safety review of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) application.

The final volumes to be published are volume 2, covering repository safety before permanent closure, and volume 5, which covers proposed conditions on the construction authorisation, likely licence specifications and overall conclusions. All five volumes of the report are now available on the NRC's website.

Although finding that DOE had met all the applicable regulatory requirements, subject to proposed conditions, the NRC recommends against the issuance of a construction authorisation at the present time because the DOE has not yet met land and water rights requirements set out in an earlier volume of the report, published in November 2014.

The NRC points out that completion of the safety evaluation report does not represent a decision on whether to authorise construction at the Nevada site - a supplement to the DOE's environmental impact statement, hearings on contentions, and a NRC review would be needed before a final licensing decision could only be reached. In any case, the safety evaluation process for the DOE's 2008 application to build and operate the USA's first permanent repository for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste has been rendered something of an academic exercise following a 2009 decision by the US administration to abandon the project.

The DOE's application to build and operate Yucca Mountain for the disposal of used nuclear fuel and military high-level wastes was lodged in 2008, but the NRC suspended work on the application following the 2009 decision. It was forced to resume work on the application after an August 2013 ruling by the US Court of Appeals that the NRC had acted illegally in abandoning the project.

The US government is legally responsible for developing a long-term disposal strategy for used nuclear fuel. From 1992 until 2009, that strategy had been Yucca Mountain. The DOE announced a new waste disposal strategy in early 2013, envisaging a series of interim stores until a permanent underground disposal facility is ready for service around 2048.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News