NRC to complete Yucca Mountain safety evaluation report

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has instructed NRC staff to complete the safety evaluation report (SER) for the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain construction authorization application.

This is an incremental step in resuming the license review for the much-debated and litigated proposed spent fuel site in Nevada.

This direction is the agency’s response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which in August ordered us to resume work on the application using about $11m in unspent money from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

NRC took the action after obtaining views from many parties involved in the Yucca Mountain license process, according to the NRC blog posting for Nov. 18.

House Republicans have been pushing NRC to resume the licensing case for the proposed spent fuel repository as quickly as possible.

By way of background, Yucca Mountain is the proposed repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste, a site selected by DOE at the direction of Congress. DOE submitted its license application in June 2008, but two years later withdrew it after the Obama administration decided not to pursue the project.

The NRC closed out its unfinished review of the Yucca Mountain application during FY 2011. But various states took NRC to federal court and were able to obtain a federal court order against NRC.

While the NRC order directs staff to complete the unfinished safety report, and instructs DOE to complete a supplement to the Yucca environmental impact statement (EIS), it does not direct the staff to reconstitute the old Licensing Support Network (LSN) for Yucca Mountain.

Importantly the order does not restart the adjudicatory hearing on the application, which remains suspended.

The NRC in a 23-page order said it would consider the future of the support network and the adjudicatory hearing once the tasks it directed today are completed and it can determine what tasks it can perform with whatever funds remain. The agency can only use money Congress has appropriated from the Nuclear Waste Fund for activities related to Yucca Mountain.

The SER is the key technical document of the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain application. It was to be published in five volumes: Volume 1, essentially the introduction, was published in August 2010. Subsequent volumes were not completed before the review was shut down – they were eventually published as “technical evaluation reports,” which are less formal documents that don’t contain regulatory conclusions about the proposed repository.

Although a finished SER would contain those conclusions, it will not be equivalent to a licensing decision, NRC said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.