Share This

NRC to Complete Yucca Mountain Safety Review

Nov. 19, 2013—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered agency staff to complete the safety evaluation report on the Energy Department’s application to construct a repository for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The commission’s direction responds to an August ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that ordered the NRC to continue its review of the Yucca Mountain license application using approximately $11 million in unspent Nuclear Waste Fund money that was appropriated before the agency suspended its review in fiscal 2011.

In early October, the agency staff recommended completing the safety evaluation report, which it said “could inform any national repository decisions, and the scientific methods and analyses could enlighten any future repository reviews.” NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said later in the month the agency would solicit the views of parties involved in the licensing process and outlined some of the activities the agency would consider in response to the court’s order with the available funds. Both the commission and staff acknowledged that the remaining funds would not be sufficient to make a final licensing decision.

The commission’s Nov. 18 memorandum and order concurs with the staff recommendation to complete the safety evaluation report, including any final regulatory conclusions. It also requests that DOE prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement, which it said “the staff has determined is needed” to complete its environmental review of the application.

The safety evaluation report, intended to be published in five volumes, is the NRC’s key determination of the technical merits of the Yucca Mountain application. Volume 1 was published in August 2010. Subsequent volumes were not completed before the NRC’s review was suspended, although the technical information supporting the safety report was eventually published as “technical evaluation reports” that did not include the agency’s regulatory conclusions about the proposed repository.

An NRC blog post explains that although a finished safety report would contain those regulatory conclusions, it will not be equivalent to a licensing decision. In addition to the safety and environmental reviews, formal legal discovery and litigation and commission review of contested and uncontested issues would require additional funding.

The order continues to hold those adjudicatory proceedings and hearings “in abeyance” and does not reconstitute the Licensing Support Network that supported the adjudicatory hearings. However, the order asked that all the documents in the LSN collection be loaded for staff use into the NRC’s non-public Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS), acknowledging that documents used as references in the safety report and supplemental EIS could later be released to the public depending on the availability of funds.

The agency said the commission “would consider the future of the LSN and the adjudicatory hearing” once the safety report is completed and it had a better idea of what other licensing-related tasks it could accomplish with any remaining Nuclear Waste Fund money.

“The industry concurs with the commission’s ‘incremental’ approach in advancing the Yucca licensing process consistent with the court’s decision,” said Anne Cottingham, NEI’s associate general counsel, noting that NEI took a similar position in its submittals to the NRC earlier in the fall.

“Specifically, NEI supports the NRC’s completion of the safety reports and its request to DOE to complete the supplemental environmental impact statement for the agency’s consideration and potential adoption,” she added. “Both these are discrete tasks that can proceed concurrently and can be completed with existing funds.”

Apart from Commissioner Apostolakis, who did not participate in the vote, the other four commissioners voted unanimously to affirm the order.