Yucca Mountain Licensing Update
Licensing Proceeding & Contentions —
State and local government submittals and responces by the Dept. of Energy
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will continue to review the license application for the Yucca Mountain repository for the present, even though the Obama administration has made clear it wants to pursue other waste storage options. The NRC will have funds to continue the application review process in 2010. But the White House has said it intends to cut all funding from the Yucca Mountain project in 2011, including money needed for the licensing process to move forward. President Obama won’t release his 2011 budget proposal until January.
New NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press that the agency's ability to work on the license application for the Yucca Mountain project would be jeopardized by future budget cuts. He added: "We've got a lot of things on our plate, making sure we do a good solid safety review whether it’s with new reactors, license renewals, (or) nuclear material." All commercial, industrial, and academic entities must apply for a license from the NRC before any facility containing or involving the use of nuclear materials can be built. The NRC faces a full workload with applications for new reactors, re-licensing of existing nuclear power plans, and making sure that current plants are being operated safely.
Licensing Board accepts 299 contentions to application — Licensing board panels called Construction Authorization Boards (CABs) were appointed by the NRC’s Atomic Safety & Licensing Board. The quasi-judicial three person panels will hear arguments related to the license application. The hearings will cover disputed issues or contentions about DOE’s license application. Fourteen groups, including the State of Nevada, filed 318 contentions issues against the license application. The contentions raise many safety and environmental concerns about the repository including that DOE’s application
- Fails to take into account expected changes in precipitation tied to global warming
- Fails to use the right calculations for volcanic activity, and
- Fails to properly anticipate how fast waste canisters will corrode.
The NRC staff argued that only about 19 contentions were valid concerns, but the CABs disagreed. After hearings in May 2009, the board accepted 299 contentions—an unprecedented number. Bruce Breslow, executive director of Nevada’s Nuclear Projects Agency, said, “This is a huge victory for the State of Nevada that brings validation to over 25 years of scientific and legal work.” The hearings are currently scheduled to begin in October 2010. Due to budget cuts they expect to hear topics sequentially rather than simultaneously, but current plans could change further pending the outcome of the 2011 budget.
Yucca Mountain Licensing Process
The July 2002 Congressional approval of Yucca Mountain overturned Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn's veto of the project and officially mandated Yucca Mountain as the future site of the nation's High Level waste repository.
In accordance with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Department of Energy must now apply to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the repository.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),
made up of a five-member appointed board and staff, is a federal agency that regulates
all of the nation’s nuclear facilities except the nuclear weapons complex. All commercial, industrial,
and academic entities must apply for a license from the NRC before they can build any facility containing
or involving the use of nuclear materials. This includes nuclear power plants, research reactors, scientific
labs, and facilities that produce or store radioactive materials other than those for nuclear weapons
research and manufacture. The NRC also licenses transportation casks used for storing and moving nuclear
Before any construction can begin on the Yucca Mountain repository, the project must be licensed by
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
NRC LICENSE CRITERIA
The NRC's Licensing criteria are outlined in the U. S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 10, Part 63.
License criteria are also guided by the Yucca Mountain Review Plan. The Review Plan's purpose is to aid NRC staff in determining whether the Yucca Mountain repository complies with 10 CFR Part 63. The Plan works to ensure quality, uniformity, and consistency in the license application review.
Yucca Mountain Review Plan
Executive Summary Yucca Mountain Review Plan
To help organize its review of the Yucca Mountain
license application, the staff of the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission has also established
nine key technical issues concerning the performance of the repository.
Public involvement in the Yucca Mountain licensing
process is limited. However, a public hearing process is to take place after the NRC has had time to review DOE's license application. The hearing will be held by the Atomic Saftey and Licensing Board (ASLB), a judicial arm of the NRC.
Members of the public can participate in what is called a ‘limited appearance’ at the public hearing
given by the ASLB. During the ‘limited appearance,’ members of the Board will listen to statements from
any public citizen who wishes to participate. However, neither the ASLB nor the
NRC are required to take those comments into account while making the license decision.
Members of the public are also allowed to attend and observe the hearing, which will take place over a
period of months, perhaps in more than one location in Nevada. No locations have currently been set, but the
NRC says it will make transcripts of the hearing available to the public. The NRC will also consider whether to broadcast the hearing via closed circuit TV to several locations around the state, as
well as allowing citizens to participate in limited appearance via satellite. Although the hearing is
yet to be determined , NRC staff says it will make location and broadcast decisions
before the hearing.
To keep tabs on the NRC's public meeting schedule, visit the NRC's website
LICENSING SUPPORT NETWORK
The Licensing Support Network (LSN) is an electronic system open to the public that publishes all documents relating to the NRC Yucca Mountain Licensing hearings. All parties and potential parties involved in the hearings must post any documents that may serve as evidence in the proceedings before DOE submits its license application.
Public availability of the LSN is mandated by Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 2, Subpart J. Responsibility for the development and operation of LSN belongs to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
One issue that must be resolved before DOE can submit the license application is the preparation and release of research documents through the LSN process. Under NRC rules, DOE cannot file the application until six months after it has publicly released all background documents supporting research on the Yucca Mountain Project. The documents must be prepared electronically and released on an internet through the Licensing Support Network (LSN).
DOE originally attempted to issue database certification for the LSN in June of 2004. However, the State of Nevada challenged the database, saying DOE had left out millions of pages of documentation in the rush to meet its deadline. A three-judge NRC licensing board agreed with the state and ordered the Energy Department to fix problems with the database before again seeking certification.
Over the past few year DOE has been sending thousands of documents to the NRC for inclusion in the database. DOE and NRC have agreed that the new documents will not be added to the LSN and available for public viewing until DOE gives permission.
For more information, log on to the LSN at http://www.lsnnet.gov/
Visit Eureka County LSN Webpage
The NRC is also responsible for the safety of casks to be used to transport nuclear waste across the
country. So far, full-scale testing of the casks has yet to be completed; only smaller cask models and computer simulations have been used. However, the NRC has said they will conduct limited testing of full-scale casks.
NRC’s current plan, to be carried out by Sandia National Laboratories, calls for real-life testing of one rail and one truck cask in two scenarios: a 30-minute fire test, and a simulated 75 mph crash into an unyielding surface.
However, Nevada government and environmental representatives say these tests are still too limited: casks should be tested for leaks, pressure checks, heat resistance, and be subjected to forceful accident impacts. The NRC should also test ALL cask designs instead of just two.
The Department of Energy (DOE) submits a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Comission (NRC) for permission to construct the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
The NRC conducts an "acceptance review" of the application to determine if it is complete. DOE will be required to fill any information gaps. Once it passes the acceptance review, the application can be docketed and the three-year licensing clock begins.
The NRC begins its substantive review of the application. Staff will evaluate Yucca safety standards and determine whether there is a "reasonable expectation" the repository will meet these standards. The findings become the "Safety Evaluation Report."
In addition, NRC staff reviews DOE's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). NRC can require supplements or revisions if the FEIS is found to be inadequate.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), an independent entity within the NRC, holds public hearings. The hearings will cover disputed issues or contentions of DOE's license application deemed admissible by NRC. The State of Nevada and other parties granted permission to be involved may cross-examine witnesses who are proponents of the application and bring in expert witnesses to testify.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s (ASLB) three-member panel decides whether to grant the license. The ASLB’s decision can be appealed, in which case the five Commissioners of the NRC will have the final say.
The following steps will occur ONLY if the NRC grants DOE the license to construct the repository
DOE submits license application amendment to begin accepting waste once sufficient facilities at Yucca have been built.
DOE submits license application amendment to close the repository once it has been filled to capacity and an acceptable waiting period has expired.
See also Eureka County's Nuclear Waste Update Fall 2002 article on the NRC Licensing Process
Inside Yucca Mountain