Yucca Mountain put on ice

14 September 2011

The Yucca Mountain project stands to be officially frozen in two weeks without a conclusion on its safety, the regulator has said, detailing its dismantling of various supporting measures.


An announcement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) explained that its executives were ordered by the commissioners themselves to finish off any work currently in progress and maintain all necessary files by the end of this financial year - 30 September.


The five commissioners said they were "evenly divided" when voting on whether to accept a ruling by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. That higher authority had pointed out that the project and the site were authorised by Congress in 2002 and the Department of Energy (DoE) did not have the right to cancel and withdraw the licence application without going back to the lower house.

Until President Barack Obama took office the DoE had made slow and steady progress towards realising Yucca, but that ended with his declaration that it was now "not an option."


The commissioners' move, on the basis of their "inherent supervisory authority," has effectively ended the negotiation between the politicians and the legislative machine by wrapping up and freezing the Yucca Mountain project. The DoE's licence application remains active on the NRC books, but neither party will take it forward. However, the status leaves open the possibility of a subsequent president and energy secretary picking the project back up.


Yesterday the NRC added a technical evaluation report to the multitude of documents on the project that "represent the NRC staff's primary knowledge management records of its technical review." However, the latest volume "does not contain any regulatory conclusions about whether the DoE's proposal would have satisfied NRC requirements."


Among other things, the set of 46 documents "cover scientific and engineering topics such as lava flow cooling processes, corrosion of Alloy 22 and titanium drip shield materials, and interactions between magma and waste containers." They will now go into a repository of their own.


NRC staff are ending a lease on a Las Vegas hearing room, transferring its audio-visual equipment to other federal locations and preparing to hand the property back to the landlord. An online database has been scrapped, with maintenance of the documents now the responsibility of a number of parties, while the NRC will place optical media copies in long-term storage.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News