NRC Returns To Yucca Mountain Review Process

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday that it had approved new steps in the process of reviewing Yucca Mountain site, Nevada, as a potential site for a national repository for high level nuclear waste, reopening the process that could resolve the critical and long-standing issue for the nuclear power industry: What to do with the build up of spent nuclear fuel.

Yucca Mountain designThe next steps, the NRC said, involve information-gathering activities related to the suspended adjudication on the application. The actions announced Wednesday involve recreating the bureaucratic support systems necessary for reviving the application process.

The agency said it had directed staff to convene a virtual meeting of the Licensing Support Network Advisory Review Panel which will study the idea of reviving the Licensing Support Network (LSN), which was an online database containing close to 4 million documents supporting the adjudicatory hearing on the Yucca Mountain repository application. Should the review agree not to rebuild the LSN, the agency directed the panel to create a suitable replacement.

Yucca Mountain has been under review as the most likely site of a national repository for spent nuclear fuel since 1987. The process had evolved to the point of the Department of Energy submitting an application to the NRC for the site in 2008, however, President Obama's administration canceled the application, moving, instead, to create a commission that would re-open the discussion on what to do with the build up of 70,000 tons of spent fuel that is currently stored around the country at the nation's nuclear power plants.

Since then the application process has foundered and been reborn. In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the NRC to continue to review the site on technical and environmental concerns.

The Government Accountability Office, acting under direction of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has also intervened. In May, the GAO advised the NRC to recreate an organizational structure that would support the application process.

The NRC said “these next steps involve information-gathering activities related to the suspended adjudication on the application. These activities will enable efficient, informed decisions in support of executing any further appropriations of funds for the High-Level Waste Program.”

Currently, the 4 million documents reside in a publicly available LSN Library in the NRC’s ADAMS document system.

The agency staff will also gather preliminary information regarding potential hearing venues.

The Commission limited expenditures for the information-gathering activities to $110,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund. As of June 30, the agency had approximately $634,000 in remaining unobligated Nuclear Waste Fund appropriations.

Since 2013, the Commission has directed the agency staff to complete its Safety Evaluation Report, prepare a supplement to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement, and preserve the documents from the LSN within ADAMS, the NRC said.

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