The disposal of High-Level Waste (HLW) and spent nuclear fuel are governed under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended (NWPA). The Act dictates that HLW and spent fuel will be disposed of underground, in a deep geologic repository, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The primary federal agencies responsible for implementing the Act are:
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE): DOE is responsible for designing, constructing, operating, and decommissioning a permanent disposal facility for HLW in accordance with NRC licensing regulation.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): EPA is responsible for developing site-specific environmental standards for use in evaluating the safety of a geologic repository, i.e. radiation exposure standards.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC): The NRC is responsible for licensing and overseeing the construction and operation of the repository. The NRC is also charged with approving applications for license amendments for repository closure, including dismantling of surface facilities and other activities involving safety issues.
What's Happened: On June 3, 2008, the DOE submitted a license application to the NRC requesting authorization to construct a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Upon receipt of the application the NRC initiated the application review process; however, in 2010 the NRC suspended the licensing process at the request of the DOE. [Department of Energy Files Motion to Withdraw Yucca Mountain License Application] [Download the motion – 14 pages, PDF]
Current Situation: After the above referenced August 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the NRC is now using available funds to resumed work on its safety review of DOE's application to construct a repository at Yucca Mountain. The Safety Evaluation Report was finalized in January 2015. The adjudicatory hearing, which must be completed before a licensing decision can be made, remains suspended.
Subsequent to these events, a law-suit was filed by the States of Washington and South Carolina [and other parties] resulting in an August 2013 decision by the District of Columbia Circuit Court [29 Page PDF] ordering the NRC to resume its license application review of Yucca Mountain. The specific details of these actions are described on the NRC's website at the following links which are repeated below: (1) and (2).
Readers Note: Licensing the construction and operation of the Yucca Mountain repository is complex process; accordingly, we have provided the following links to federal and state agencies to aid users follow the process.
The Safety Evaluation Report in five volumes is the NRC staff's analysis of the license application. The SERs explain the staff's determination as to whether the facility meets NRC regulations.
NRC Safety Evaluation Reports [NRC link to documents]
- August 2010 — NRC Publishes Volume 1 of Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report [1001 Pages, PDF] Consistent with NRC's requirements for the general information, the NRC staff reviewed the following: (i) a general description of the proposed repository, (ii) proposed schedules for repository activities, (iii) a description of security measures, (iv) a description of the Material Control and Accounting Program, and (v) a description of work done to characterize the site.
On the basis of its review and specified DOE commitments, the NRC staff concludes in this volume that DOE has provided information that satisfies the requirements of 10 CFR 63.21(b)(1)-(5) of the NRC's regulations.
- January 2015 — Volume 2, "Repository Safety Before Permanent Closure [797 Pages]. SER Volume 2 documents the results of the NRC staff's evaluation to determine whether the proposed repository design complies with the performance objectives and requirements that apply before the repository is permanently closed. Based on its review, and subject to the proposed conditions of Construction Authorization documented in Volume 2 of this SER, the NRC staff finds, with reasonable assurance, that DOE has demonstrated compliance with the NRC regulatory requirements for preclosure safety.
- October 2014 —NRC Publishes Volume 3 safety Evaluation Report Related to Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Wastes in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, [PDF, 781 Pages, 3.8MB] SER Volume 3 documents the results of the NRC staff's evaluation to determine whether the proposed repository design complies with the performance objectives and requirements that apply after the repository is permanently closed. The NRC staff finds, with reasonable expectation, that DOE has demonstrated compliance with the NRC regulatory requirements for postclosure safety, including, but not limited to, "Performance objectives for the geologic repository after permanent closure" in 10 CFR 63.113.
- December 19, 2014 — NRC Publishes Volume 4 of Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report [181 Pages, PDF] — SER Volume 4 documents the results of the NRC staff's evaluation to determine whether DOE's research and development program, performance confirmation program, and other programmatic and administrative controls, systems, and programs meet applicable regulatory requirements. Based on its review, the NRC staff finds, with reasonable assurance, that, except as noted below, DOE has addressed applicable requirements . . . The NRC staff is proposing one condition of construction authorization in this SER Volume related to the description of programs designed to resolve safety questions. Pursuant to 10 CFR 63.32(b)(4), in the event that DOE identifies any safety questions that would require research and development programs in the future, the results of those programs must be appropriately reported to the NRC. The NRC staff finds that DOE has not met the requirements 10 CFR 63.121(a) and 10 CFR 63.121(d)(1) regarding ownership of land and water rights, respectively. [Read NRCA's Press Release]
- January 2015 — NRC Publishes Volume 5 of Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report titled Proposed Conditions on the Construction Authorization and Probable Subjects of License Specifications[PDF, 69 Pages]. In this volume the NRC staff is not recommending issuance of a construction authorization at this time because the NRC staff determined that DOE has not met certain regulatory requirements regarding ownership and control of the land where the repository would be located and certain water rights. In addition, a supplement to DOE's environmental impact statement has not yet been completed.