Nuclear Energy Insight
June 2008—After 20 years of scientific research and extensive evaluation, the U.S. Department of Energy has submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct the nation’s first geologic repository for used nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
“This license application is the culmination of more than two decades of expert scientific research and engineering and represents a major milestone for the department,” said Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.
Over the next three months, the NRC will conduct an initial review to determine whether to accept the 8,646-page application for formal review. After accepting the application, the agency expects to conduct the licensing process over a three- to four-year period, as required by law.
“Congress has given the NRC a strict timetable for reviewing this application, and I want to assure the American people that we will perform an independent, rigorous and thorough examination to determine whether the repository can safely house the nation’s high-level waste,” said NRC Chairman Dale Klein. “The NRC’s licensing decision will be based entirely on the technical merits.”
Skip Bowman, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said filing of this license application “continues down a path to properly meet our obligation to future generations to safely and reliably manage the byproduct of this highly efficient form of electricity production.”
The agency’s review will involve more than 100 NRC staff and contractor employees with expertise in geochemistry, structural geology, seismology, health physics and various engineering disciplines. The NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards will conduct the licensing review.
“After years of debate, the suitability of the Yucca Mountain repository is now in the hands of the experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). “This action is consistent with the direction given by Congress and the president when the Yucca Mountain site was approved six years ago.”
DOE believes that submitting the license application will reinvigorate congressional support.
“I believe they will be energized and very supportive because we’ve actually done this,” said Edward Sproat, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.
Shortly after the filing, the state of Nevada filed a 23-page petition asking regulators to reject the license application. The state claimed that the DOE application is “unauthorized and legally deficient.” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) charged that the application “lacks critical information.”
Bodman said experts have assured him that both the scientific assessments of Yucca Mountain and the license application include sufficient, high-quality technical data. “I am confident that the application you see before you will stand up to any challenges from anywhere,” he said.
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), House Science and Technology Committee chairman, said the application submission is “long overdue.” The federal government was contractually required to accept used fuel rods from commercial power plants beginning in 1998. Utilities have filed more than 60 lawsuits against DOE for failure to begin accepting used fuel.
“Ratepayers have waited long enough for a federal repository to accept spent nuclear fuel,” said Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Wis.).
State officials also responded favorably to the filing.
“The federal government has a responsibility—to Connecticut and to the nation—to see to it that these materials are stored safely, for the long term, and Yucca Mountain has long been identified as a place where that difficult but necessary job can best be accomplished,” said Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.
South Carolina Public Service Commissioner David Wright said the submittal “clears a long-awaited, crucial hurdle for the Yucca Mountain project and represents a significant milestone for energy and self-reliance, economic competitiveness, and environmental progress, as well as national security. This is classic case of the tortoise prevailing over the hare—and three decades of sound science and common sense outlasting politics and rhetoric.”
—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.