NRC accepts Yucca Mountain design

17 October 2014

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted the Department of Energy's (DoE) design for an underground geologic nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Volume 3 of the NRC's five-volume safety evaluation report (SER) on the proposed facility issued yesterday found that the DoE's design meets the requirements that apply after the repository is permanently closed, "including but not limited to" the post-closure performance objectives in NRC's regulations, the regulator said in a statement.

These performance objectives include the requirement that the repository be composed of multiple barriers to isolate radioactivity from the environment. The NRC staff also found the proposed design meets its limits or standards for individual protection, human intrusion and groundwater protection.

The DoE's application to build and operate the USA's first permanent repository for the disposal of used nuclear fuel and military high-level wastes was lodged in 2008, but the regulator suspended work on reviewing the application following a 2009 decision by the US administration to abandon the project. The NRC resumed the review following an August 2013 ruling by the US Court of Appeals that it had acted illegally in abandoning the project, for which it had in hand some $11 million of appropriated funds.

That court order led to yesterday's publication of Volume 3, the NRC said. Its staff expect to publish volumes 2, 4 and 5 - Repository Safety Before Permanent Closure; Administrative and Programmatic Requirements; and Licence Specifications – by January 2015. Volume 1, which contains general information, was issued in August 2010.

NRC said publication of Volume 3 "does not signal" whether it might authorize construction of the repository.

"A final licensing decision, should funds beyond those currently available be appropriated, could come only after completion of the safety evaluation report, a supplement to the Department of Energy's environmental impact statement, hearings on contentions in the adjudication, and Commission review," the NRC said.


Republican Representatives John Upton of Michigan, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and John Shimkus of Illinois, who chairs that panel's Energy and the Environment Subcommittee, called release of the document "game-changing" in a joint statement.

The Yucca Mountain SER "is the most important, independent technical evaluation of whether the DoE's licence application meets the long-term nuclear waste repository regulatory and safety requirements, including whether Yucca Mountain would remain safe for one million years, the federal threshold established to ensure the utmost safety of a permanent repository," they said.

Upton added that the release of Volume 3 of the SER "marks a critical milestone in restoring America's nuclear leadership." Science and not politics "should determine Yucca's course".

The SER "embodies the objective, technical conclusions of our nation's independent nuclear safety regulator, and it represents the culmination of 30 years and $15 billion worth of scientific work by DoE and seven of our national scientific labs," he said.

Shimkus said Yucca Mountain "is one of the most studied geological formations on the planet" and that the conclusions in Volume 3 of the SER "should only add to the bipartisan support the respository has consistently received in both the House and the Senate."

Researched and written
World Nuclear News