NRC aims for 'informed decisions' on Yucca Mountain

09 August 2017

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved further actions related to its review of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) application for authorisation to construct a high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Yucca Mountain has since 1987 been named in the US Nuclear Waste Policy Act as the sole initial repository for disposal of the country's used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes.

The DOE submitted a construction licence application for the Yucca Mountain repository to the NRC in 2008, but following 2009's presidential elections the Obama administration subsequently decided to abort the project, appointing a high-level Blue Ribbon Commission to come up with alternative strategies. The NRC terminated licensing activities for Yucca Mountain in 2011, but in August 2013 was ordered to resume work on its technical and environmental reviews of the application by the US Court of Appeals.

The NRC said yesterday that its next steps involve information-gathering activities related to the suspended adjudication on the application, enabling "efficient, informed decisions" in support of executing any further appropriations of funds for the High-Level Waste Program. It has directed agency staff to hold a "virtual meeting" of the Licensing Support Network (LSN) Advisory Review Panel to provide information to, and gather input from, advisory panel members and the public regarding reconstitution of the Licensing Support Network or a suitable replacement system.

The LSN was an online database of nearly four million documents supporting the adjudicatory hearing on the Yucca Mountain application. The hearing was suspended in 2011, and the LSN was decommissioned. The documents are stored in a publicly available LSN Library in the NRC's ADAMS document system.

The NRC has limited expenditures for the information-gathering activities to $110,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund. As of 30 June, it had about $634,000 in remaining unobligated Nuclear Waste Fund appropriations. Since 2013, the agency has directed its staff to complete its Safety Evaluation Report, prepare a supplement to the DOE's Environmental Impact Statement, and preserve the documents from the LSN within ADAMS.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in May that the DOE and NRC will need to rebuild their organisational capabilities in order to restart the suspended licensing process for the Yucca Mountain repository. GAO was asked by the House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce to examine the likely steps needed to resume the Yucca Mountain licensing process.

US nuclear waste management policy is enshrined in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which established federal responsibility for all civil used fuel and obliged the government - through the DOE - to begin removing used fuel from nuclear facilities by 1998 for disposal in a federal facility. The act was amended in 1987 to designate Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole site for the repository for 70,000 tonnes of high-level waste.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News