Later this year, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is expected to make
a recommendation to President Bush on whether Yucca Mountain, Nevada
is a suitable site for a nuclear waste repository. In preparation for
that decision, the Department of Energy has been holding several public
hearings in Nevada this month, and is seeking public comments to inform
the Secretary's decision. Comments MUST BE RECEIVED BY SEPTEMBER
20; please see below for details on how to submit comments.
According to the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the federal government
has responsibility for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level
radioactive waste. While DOE originally selected nine locations to consider
as potential repositories, in 1987 Congress amended the Nuclear Waste
Policy Act to limit consideration exclusively to the Yucca Mountain
site. Just last month, DOE released its Preliminary Site Suitability
Evaluation, which makes a preliminary estimate that possible radiation
releases from the site would fall well within standards set by the EPA
in June, and within proposed Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations.
On August 27, the American Institute of Physics received a letter from
DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, seeking input
on a number of topics related to the Secretary's decision. The letter
states, in part, "Over the next several months the Secretary of
Energy will carefully consider a large body of scientific documents,
as well as the views of the public, and decide whether or not to recommend
to the President that Yucca Mountain be developed to serve as our repository
for spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste.... Your comments
in response to this notice would be very much appreciated." The
letter also includes a specific list of Suggested Topics for Public
Comment on Yucca Mountain on which it is seeking "views and comments,"
1. "Please provide your views concerning whether the
Yucca Mountain Preliminary Site Suitability Evaluation (PSSE) and
other scientific documents produced by the Department provide an adequate
basis for finding that the Yucca Mountain site is suitable for development
of a repository. If you believe that certain aspects of the PSSE are
inadequate, please detail the basis for this belief and indicate how
the documentation might be made adequate with respect to these aspects."
2. "If the Secretary determines that the scientific
analysis indicates that the Yucca Mountain site is likely to meet
the applicable radiation protection standards established by the Environmental
Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, do you believe
that the Secretary should proceed to recommend the site to the President
at this time? If not, please explain."
3. "Are there any reasons that you believe should prevent
the President from concluding that the Yucca Mountain site is qualified
for the preparation and submission of a construction license application
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?"
4. "If you believe that the Secretary should not proceed
with a recommendation to develop a repository at Yucca Mountain, what
mechanism should be utilized to meet the Department's legal obligation
to begin accepting spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste?"
5. "Please provide any other comments concerning any
relevant aspect of the Yucca Mountain site for use as a repository,
or that are otherwise relevant to the consideration of a possible
recommendation by the Secretary."
"Any decision regarding a permanent repository for this nation's
nuclear waste will be made based on sound science," said Secretary
Abraham in an August 21 press release announcing the public hearings
and comment period. "The measures I am taking today are designed
to assist me in this effort. I am committed to making sure that we arrive
at the right decision for America."
Even if Abraham concludes that progress toward a permanent repository
at Yucca Mountain should continue, many additional steps are required
before construction could begin. If President Bush receives a positive
recommendation from the secretary, and the President approves the recommendation,
he must notify Congress and the State of Nevada. Nevada would have the
opportunity to submit to Congress a notice of disapproval. In that case,
Congress would have to pass a joint resolution approving Yucca Mountain
as the repository site in order for DOE to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission for construction authorization. The NRC approval process
could also take several years. The number-two Democrat in the Senate,
Harry Reid of Nevada, in a statement said that Nevada will oppose construction
of a repository at Yucca Mountain, and "I will continue to oppose
any legislation or regulation that would bring high-level nuclear waste
to Nevada." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) reportedly
supports Reid's position.
Anyone wishing to read the Yucca Mountain Preliminary Site Suitability
Evaluation or submit comments to DOE can access the department's Yucca
Mountain web site.
Comments may also be mailed or faxed to: Carol Hanlon, S&ER Products
Manager, U.S. Department of Energy, Yucca Mountain Site Characterization
Office, P.O. Box 30307 M/S 025, North Las Vegas, NV 89036-0707; fax:
COMMENTS MUST BE SUBMITTED BY SEPTEMBER 20, 2001.
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics