NRC Review of Yucca Mountain Application Restarted

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Publication date: 
26 November 2013


“We direct the NRC Staff to complete and issue the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) associated with the construction authorization application.” So states the Memorandum and Order issued by the commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in compliance with an August decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals to restart the review of the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste repository.

The NRC’s 23-page memorandum issued on November 18 is a significant development in the highly contested proposal to establish the Yucca Mountain repository. NRC staff work was suspended in June 2010 on the repository’s 2008 construction authorization application by the Department of Energy during the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration sought to terminate further action on the repository, resulting in work being stopped on the NRC’s completion of the multi-volume Safety and Evaluation Report

The NRC memorandum outlines what the commission will do, and not do, to comply with the court’s directive. The first step is the completion of the Safety and Evaluation Report for DOE’s construction authorization application. In August 2010 the NRC released the first volume of this report. The memo states the five volume report “can be completed and issued concurrently in approximately twelve months after the Staff initiates work.” It is estimated this step will cost $8.3 million; the agency has $11 million in carry over funding from FY 2011 and earlier. The memorandum explains this is “only a fraction of the NRC’s ‘normal’ annual budget for the Yucca review,” limiting additional action by the commission on the application.

Without new appropriations the NRC states that it will be unable to make thousands of application documents available in a public database that was closed in 2011. The NRC will also be unable to conduct a required formal adjudicatory hearing of approximately 300 contentions on the application.

In addition to the commission’s work, the Department of Energy must complete, using its own funds, an NRC-required supplement to DOE’s environmental impact statement on groundwater issues.

A further step in this process requires the NRC commissioners to make its “own review of both contested and uncontested issues.”

The conclusion of this memorandum explains that the NRC “will likely be unable to make meaningful progress on steps other than those outlined in this decision unless and until Congress appropriates additional funds for the agency’s Yucca Mountain review process.” Of note, the memorandum did not state what position the NRC would take in requesting additional funding to carry out the remainder of the licensing process. The memorandum explains: “a number of participants request that we submit to Congress a budget request that would seek appropriations for the licensing process. We will take those requests under advisement in the course of our agency’s budget process.”