Monday, September 08, 2008

The NRC Dockets the Yucca Mountain License Application

yucca-drawing The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has formally docketed the Department of Energy’s license application for the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev. The agency staff has also recommended that the Commission adopt, with further supplementation, DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement for the repository project.

That comes from an NRC press release. Why is this important? Let NEI's President and CEO Skip Bowman tell you:

“This is another important step toward determining the scientific and technical basis for disposing of the radioactive byproducts (used fuel and/or other waste forms from future used fuel recycling) of the nation’s commercial and defense nuclear activities in a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. This progress in the Yucca Mountain licensing process demonstrates that the United States is at the forefront of international efforts to safely manage used nuclear fuel in the manner that the scientific community has recommended for decades.


“This determination initiates the most rigorous phase of an unprecedented licensing process that will be transparent to the public, with the state of Nevada, several affected units of local government and Indian tribes among its active participants. As the NRC undertakes its formal scientific and technical review, there will be multiple opportunities for the public to participate in and observe the process.”

The second part is key: Nevada kicked up a fuss over the impact statement, in part because the Environmental Protection Agency intends to issue new guidelines that might affect DOE's application. Nevada's complaint to the NRC was rejected, but only because the application hadn't been docketed. Now that it has, we can expect more action from Nevada. (Of course, the EPA's standards may favor what's been done in the application, which would render the issue moot.) Stay tuned.

In any event, it's an important step and allows the NRC to begin the work of reviewing the application. The staff’s report on its adoption review will be available on the NRC’s ADAMS online document system at using access number ML082420342.

A conceptual design of the Yucca Mountain repository. This comes from the NRC. Visit here to see a detailed description and browse around the NRC's high-level waste disposal section. Lot of Yucca Mountain information there.


Johan said...

One thing I dont understand is why not just expand the WIPP to take on civilian waste aswell? What legal obstacles are there?

Joffan said...

While I don't have any particular love for the waste disposal scheme as currently envisaged, I guess it important that the regulatory process is run through, if for no other reason than to start the wheels turning on civilian spent fuel disposal. Whatever technologies arise in future, there will likely be some desire for deep disposal and variations to the Yucca permit will hopefully be straightforward compared to the initial permit.

johan: the two obvious legal hurdles for WIPP would be its own license and Congress' declared exclusivity of Yucca as the civilian disposal site. There may be others. However, it's an excellent counter even now to the antinuclear delusion that there is no waste disposal possible.

Anonymous said...

Didn't New Mexico cut a deal long ago whereby they were taken out of the running for the full-scale SNF repository if they agreed to host WIPP? Or am I completely misrecalling?

Anonymous said...

The big difference between salt repositories (WIPP and nearby) and tuff (Yucca) is that anything that is put into salt is permanently gone, since the salt creeps down and encapsulates the material. Material put into Yucca remains easily recoverable for millenia. The obvious use for Yucca Mountain is for disposal of materials that we believe will not be economical to recycle for many decades, but that could in theory have future value (e.g., exotic spent fuels). A repository next to WIPP could be used for materials that are not expected to ever have any future value (e.g., fission products). Dry cask storage should be used for materials that we believe are likely to be recycled (e.g., spent LWR fuel).