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NRC Staff Recommends Completing Yucca Safety Reports

Oct. 3, 2013—As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers how to comply with a court order to restart its stalled review of the license application for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository, agency staff this week recommended that remaining Yucca-specific funds be used to complete the safety evaluation reports and the supplemental environmental impact statement.

In response to a commission order seeking comments on how best to proceed with the license application review, the staff said these tasks “likely can be accomplished with available funds and a focused effort.”

The staff also asked that the NRC continue to suspend adjudicatory proceedings and license-related litigation until after the documents are completed. “In effect, the commission should balance meaningful progress in staff review of the application against the resumption, but lack of completion, of the adjudicatory proceeding,” the staff response said.

Citing a lack of funding, the NRC in 2010 halted its review of the Energy Department’s 2008 license application for the Yucca Mountain repository. In an Aug. 13 ruling on a 2011 case filed by several parties including the states of South Carolina and Washington, Aiken County, S.C., and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a federal appeals court ordered the agency to resume its licensing review, saying the NRC had violated the law by suspending it. The Nuclear Energy Institute participated in the case as a “friend of the court.”

NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane recently told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that apart from soliciting comments from parties in the license proceeding as how best to use the agency’s $11.1 million in carryover Yucca funds, the commission was gathering “pertinent information” from staff on budget and staffing resources. She noted that the funds would not be sufficient “to complete all of the necessary steps in this licensing process” (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Sept. 11).

The staff’s Sept. 30 response agreed with Macfarlane that the remaining funds would not support all the steps needed for a final decision on the Yucca Mountain license. In addition to the safety and environmental reviews that the staff recommended completing, formal legal discovery and litigation and commission review of contested and uncontested issues would require additional funding.

If all of those steps were resumed in parallel, with the limited funding available, “it is possible that none of the discrete activities would be completed,” the staff said.

However, the staff said, completing the safety and environmental reports, including conclusions on whether DOE’s application would satisfy all applicable regulations, would “make information available to participants and the general public.” The technical reports, they added, “could inform any national repository decisions, and the scientific methods and analyses could enlighten any future repository reviews.”

The staff estimated that the documents could be completed within 12 months, “for less than the currently available Nuclear Waste Fund resources.”

Among other interested parties, NEI also has urged the NRC to use its remaining funds to complete and publish the safety reports. A bipartisan letter from 81 members of the House of Representatives saying the same thing also was sent this week to Macfarlane (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Sept. 30).