Yucca Mountain post-closure phase meets safety requirements: NRC report

17 October 2014

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has published Volume 3 of its safety evaluation report on the proposed underground geologic nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Volume 3 covers the period after a repository at Yucca Mountain would be permanently closed should NRC authorize construction following completion of the remaining steps in the licensing process, NRC said.

Volume 3 contains the staff's finding that the Department of Energy's repository design meets the requirements that apply after the repository is permanently closed, including but not limited to the post-closure performance objectives in NRC's regulations (in 10 CFR Part 63, Subpart E). These performance objectives include the requirement that the repository be composed of multiple barriers to isolate radioactivity from the environment. The staff also found the proposed repository design meets the NRC's limits or standards (in 10 CFR Part 63, Subpart L) for individual protection, human intrusion and groundwater protection, NRC said.

The Department of Energy submitted its Yucca Mountain application in June 2008. The NRC staff published Volume 1 (General Information) of the safety evaluation report in August 2010. After DOE moved to withdraw the application and Congress stopped appropriating funds for the NRC's review, the agency closed out its application review and published three technical evaluation reports containing the staff's technical analyses to that point but no regulatory conclusions. The adjudication of nearly 300 contentions filed by various parties contesting the application was also suspended in September 2011.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC in August 2013 to resume the licensing process using currently available funding appropriated from the Nuclear Waste Fund. That court order led to today's publication of Volume 3. The staff expects to publish volumes 2 (Repository Safety Before Permanent Closure), 4 (Administrative and Programmatic Requirements) and 5 (License Specifications) by January 2015, as they are completed, NRC said.

Although the report is positive, concluding that NRC would approve the repository based on this volume alone is premature, NRC said. A final licensing decision, should funds beyond those currently available be appropriated, could come only after completion of the safety evaluation report, a supplement to the Department of Energy's environmental impact statement, hearings on contentions in the adjudication, and Commission review.

A copy of the document is available on http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1949/

The US Nuclear Energy Institute said, "This technical evaluation provides strong support for our belief that the Yucca Mountain site is appropriate for an underground repository for used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear energy facilities and high-level radioactive waste from our nation's defense programme."

It said that the government should provide sufficient funding to restart the programme. "It is in the best interest of our nation that the federal government begins to meet its legal obligations as soon as possible and to establish a viable program for the long-term management and disposal of commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste."



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