DOE Files Yucca Mountain Application | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: June 4, 2008

DOE Files Yucca Mountain Application

NRC likely to need four years to assess construction application
Department: Government & Policy

On June 3, the Department of Energy submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission an 8,600-page application to build the world's first geological repository for high-level nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel in Nevada. The application for the Yucca Mountain site, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said, represents more than 20 years of work by scientists and engineers at eight DOE labs, several federal agencies, and private contractors.

NRC will spend the next three months assessing the application's completeness, and it will need four years to fully examine the construction application, the agency said in a statement. Along with the application, Bodman said DOE has provided to NRC 3.6 million documents and more than 30 million pages of material, which is on the NRC website. The repository is expected to cost some $80 billion, and it could open in 2020 at the earliest, according to DOE.

The site is intended to hold 70,000 metric tons of material, a fraction of what will be needed to store waste from commercial power plants and defense operations. The radioactive waste is currently stored at 121 temporary locations in 39 states, Bodman said, underscoring the importance of the Yucca Mountain repository to nuclear power expansion. "In order to ensure such an expansion can occur, the U.S. simply must have a permanent repository for the disposal of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste," he said.

NRC has begun gearing up for the review, which is expected to involve more than 100 staff members and contractors.

However, missing from consideration is a key standard needed by NRC to review construction license application: a radiation exposure standard to protect future generations. An original standard developed by EPA was thrown out by a federal court. Although EPA reproposed a radiation exposure standard in 2005, the agency has yet to finalize it.

NRC can begin examining DOE's application without the standard, NRC spokesman David McIntyre says. "But I don't know how far we can go. We cannot make an ultimate decision on construction without it."

Nevada strongly opposes the site and has told NRC it will file some 500 technical objections to the application. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled his continued opposition, calling the application "shoddy at best" and the design "only 35% complete."

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