WASHINGTON—The body of scientific evidence supporting the approval of Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the site for a proposed repository for high-level radioactive waste increased greatly today with the Energy Department's release of a favorable preliminary site suitability evaluation report.
The report upholds earlier scientific findings on Yucca Mountain's suitability for the underground disposal facility. The facility would be built to safely isolate used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs.
"This scientific report is the most significant milestone accomplished to date in the federal government's effort to develop a geological disposal facility," said Joe F. Colvin, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). "It is the capstone scientific document of an extensive site characterization effort that has spanned nearly two decades at a cost of $7 billion.
"Most significantly, the report clearly demonstrates there is a scientific basis for making a decision to proceed to the next steps to determine if used nuclear fuel will be disposed of at an underground facility at Yucca Mountain."
After a comment period by the public and regulatory and scientific bodies, the preliminary site suitability report and the comments will serve as the basis for the Energy Department's final determination on whether to recommend to President George W. Bush that Yucca Mountain be developed as a permanent repository. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is expected to decide by the end of this year whether to recommend the site to President Bush.
If the President were to approve the recommendation, the Yucca Mountain site would move ahead to further review as part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's process for licensing nuclear facilities. The NRC must complete an exhaustive review of the Energy Department's application to build and operate the facility before deep geologic disposal can begin at Yucca Mountain. "On the basis of the scientific evidence, we expect the secretary's decision process to move forward on the timetable set out by the Department of Energy," Colvin said.
"It is important that the government meet its statutory and contractual obligation to the American people to dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. Consumers have done their part, committing $17 billion solely for this purpose," Colvin said.
Since 1983, consumers of electricity from the nation's 103 nuclear power plants have paid one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour into a special federal fund—the Nuclear Waste Fund—created by Congress to finance the federal government's used nuclear fuel management program.
"This project is already 12 years behind schedule," Colvin said. "And after nearly 20 years of in-depth scientific investigation of every environmental facet of Yucca Mountain, there is no reason for further delay."
Support for moving forward on the federal government's nuclear waste program is widespread. This includes positions taken by the Bush Administration in its national energy policy, the National Governors Association, and bipartisan majorities in Congress.
One hundred and three nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five homes and businesses in the United States. Nuclear energy is the nation's largest emission-free source of electricity, constituting nearly 70 percent of emission-free generation in the U.S.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org .