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DOE Sends Yucca License Application to NRC; Former NRC Commissioner Tells LA Times: ‘These People Have Lost Track of Reality’

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DOE Sends Yucca License Application to NRC; Former NRC Commissioner Tells LA Times: ‘These People Have Lost Track of Reality’

June 4, 2008

The Department of Energy on Tuesday submitted its long-awaited application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in hopes of licensing the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. While DOE’s submittal of the license application was long anticipated, the odds of Yucca actually opening are long as well.

Following are the NRC news release acknowledging receipt of the Yucca application, as well as a story from the Los Angeles Times on how the application may be received and processed by the NRC.

June 3, 2008

NRC RECEIVES DOE’S LICENSE APPLICATION TO CONSTRUCT
HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY AT YUCCA MOUNTAIN

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission received an application today from the U.S. Department of Energy for a license to construct the nation’s first geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

“We are ready to get to work on this challenging review,” said NRC Chairman Dale E. Klein. “Congress has given the NRC a strict timetable for reviewing this application, and I want to assure the American people that we will perform an independent, rigorous and thorough examination to determine whether the repository can safely house the nation’s high-level waste. The NRC’s licensing decision will be based entirely on the technical merits.”

The NRC will now begin a docketing review to determine whether the application is sufficiently complete to initiate a formal licensing review. If the application is deemed sufficiently complete, the agency will formally docket the application and publish a notice of opportunity to request a hearing before the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. A decision to docket the application for review would not preclude the NRC from requesting additional information or documentation from DOE during the review. If the NRC dockets the application, it will announce at that time the extent to which it will adopt DOE’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed repository.

Formal docketing of the application will trigger a three-year schedule set by Congress for the NRC to determine whether to authorize construction. Congress has given the NRC an option to request a one-year extension, and the agency expects to need a fourth year. The NRC expects to meet this schedule, subject to Congress providing sufficient resources in a timely manner.

NRC’s review is expected to involve more than 100 staff and contractor employees with expertise in several scientific disciplines, including geochemistry, hydrology, climatology, structural geology, volcanology, seismology, health physics, security, and law, as well as chemical, mechanical, nuclear, mining, materials and geological engineering. Staff at NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Md., the Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, and the NRC’s Las
Vegas office will participate. The Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analysis in San Antonio, Texas, a federally funded research and development center, will provide technical assistance to the NRC.
The NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, under the direction of Michael F. Weber, will conduct the licensing review. Within that office, the Division of High-Level Waste Repository Safety will oversee daily operations for the review.

The ASLB Panel includes 16 full-time judges with legal and technical expertise, and is headed by Chief Judge E. Roy Hawkens. The panel expects several boards of three judges each to be formed to conduct multiple hearings regarding the Yucca Mountain application. Potential parties to these hearings indicated earlier this year they intend to file as many as 650 contentions. Many of the hearing proceedings will be conducted at the NRC’s Las Vegas Hearing Facility, with others held at agency headquarters.

The NRC’s Licensing Support Network was created as an online library to facilitate the hearing process by providing the public and potential hearing parties early access to documents related to the application, as well as the application itself. The network is available through the NRC’s Web site and at http://lsnnet.gov/.

More information about the NRC’s role in regulating the disposal of high-level nuclear waste is available on the NRC Web site at http://www.nrc.gov/waste/hlw-disposal.html.

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News releases are available through a free listserv subscription at the following Web address: http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/listserver.html. The NRC homepage at www.nrc.gov also offers a SUBSCRIBE link. E-mail notifications are sent to subscribers when news releases are posted to NRC’s Web site.

U.S. seeks the go-ahead for Nevada nuclear dump
Nevada officials say they remain committed to blocking the long-planned waste site at Yucca Mountain.
By Ralph Vartabedian
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

June 4, 2008

The federal government applied for a license Tuesday to build a long-planned dump for the nation’s radioactive waste in Nevada, but state officials vowed a renewed effort to block it, saying Washington has “lost track of reality.”

After a quarter-century of scientific dispute and legal wrangling, the Energy Department officially launched what could be one of the most complex and costly engineering efforts in history. The Yucca Mountain repository, located 16 miles from the California border, would eventually store 70,000 metric tons of waste that has been accumulating since the first reactors went online.

And the amount of waste will grow at an increasing rate in future decades: In the last year, utilities have launched a nuclear power renaissance, announcing plans for 15 new commercial reactors.

The application “will further encourage the expansion of nuclear power in the United States, which is absolutely critical to our energy security, to our environment and to our national security,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Tuesday.

The license application, which is 8,600 pages long, was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has up to four years to act. If everything goes unfettered, Bodman said, Yucca Mountain could be open for business by 2020 at a cost of about $70 billion.

Although the impetus for a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain may be greater than ever, the legal and political hurdles for the project are vast.

A sharp cut in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s budget has left it short of resources, Chairman Dale E. Klein said. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is years behind schedule in issuing a health standard for radioactive leakage from the dump. A previous standard was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court.

The issues that remain undecided could set off a frenetic pace of legal and regulatory scrambling in the closing days of the Bush administration.

Nevada officials said the administration was rushing forward with an incomplete application out of the belief that it would be more difficult to stop once it was in motion.

“They are just trying to get this on the plate while they still have a pal in the White House,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in an interview. “All they want to do is get it out of their hands and give it to the next administration.”

The dump has become one of the biggest geographic disputes in modern U.S. history, pitting Nevada against a nuclear power industry centered in the East. California’s two senators, as well as others in the West, have supported Nevada’s opposition to the dump.

Edward “Ward” Sproat, director of the Energy Department’s office of civilian radioactive waste, disputed the idea of a geographic divide, saying the dump would relieve 39 states of stored nuclear waste.

“I don’t see it as an East versus West issue,” Sproat said. “I see it as a national issue.”

The design of the dump will provide for safe storage of the waste and represents 20 years of work by the nation’s leading scientists, engineers and technical experts, including eight of the national laboratories and the U.S. Geological Survey, Bodman said.

The Energy Department has long argued against critics who want to leave the waste in place until technology improves. It would be irresponsible to not deal with the problem, the department has said.

The delays in building the dump have complicated the problem. Sproat said the Energy Department would have to ask Congress to expand the capacity of the Yucca Mountain site because all of its 70,000 metric tons of capacity will be reached in the next 24 months.

The nation has been trying to resolve the issue since the late 1970s. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. In his first term, President Bush, with congressional approval, selected Yucca Mountain as the designated site for what is mostly spent fuel from commercial reactors but also military nuclear waste.

Since then, Nevada has waged an effective legal, political and technical fight against it, drawing on the state’s growing fiscal and political clout.

“The whole legal and regulatory process is corrupt,” said Marta Adams, senior deputy attorney general in Nevada. “It would be very hard for Nevada to get a fair shake.”

Only last year, Nevada blocked a federal effort to get access to 8 million gallons of state water to drill test holes at the site.

Nevada officials have a carefully laid out a plan to stop the project, said Robert Loux, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. He said the state would immediately file to have the Energy Department’s application thrown out, and if that fails, lodge more than 600 separate disputes or “contentions.”

The notion that the dump would be safe is implausible, said Victor Galinsky, a former NRC commissioner and now a Nevada consultant.

The plan hinges on the use of titanium and palladium drip shields to protect waste canisters buried underground from water flowing through Yucca Mountain’s porous rock. The Energy Department plans to install about 11,000 drip shields, each weighing five tons, using robots 100 to 300 years in the future when the repository would be sealed.

“It is pie in the sky,” Galinsky said. “These people have lost track of reality.”

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