United States The US waste management programme took another step forward in August when the Department of Energy issued for public comment a 1400-page draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The report concluded that no environmental factors have been found to rule out Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a site for the nation’s first permanent underground repository for spent fuel and high level waste.
“In all our studies, we found nothing to disqualify this site,” said Allen Benson, a DOE spokesman for the Yucca Mountain Project. “We’re confident we’ve covered all our bases. But we’re waiting for public comment to help us see if we’ve missed anything.” Critics disputed DOE’s preliminary assessment. “At worst, this draft is misleading. At best, it is incomplete,” said Senator Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada), a long-time opponent.
The draft EIS considers potential impacts that could result from building, operating, monitoring, and eventually closing the repository. DOE officials conceded there is “a substantial amount of uncertainty associated with estimates of long-term repository performance”, but noted that the EIS used very conservative estimates. For example, Benson noted that while Nevada may be a seismically active area, the immediate vicinity around Yucca Mountain is relatively quiet and DOE is designing a facility that can withstand an earthquake with a magnitude 6.5 on the Richter scale.
The draft EIS also evaluates the possible impacts of transporting spent fuel and HLW to Yucca Mountain. Significantly, it also suggests that disposal at Yucca Mountain would be safer, in the long run, than leaving waste at the 77 commercial and DOE sites around the US where it is now stored.
The DOE will conduct 16 public hearings during a comment period that ends on 9 February 2000, before releasing a final report. The DOE’s schedule calls for a decision in 2001 on whether to recommend Yucca Mountain as a suitable repository site. If the recommendation is favourable, the White House and Congress would then have to approve it before the DOE could submit a licence application to the US NRC. Construction of the repository would begin around 2005 and it would begin accepting waste around 2010.