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Yucca Mountain Remains Stalled

Nuclear waste: Site safety confirmed, but construction not recommended

by Jessica Morrison
February 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 6

Credit: DOE
Yucca Mountain is safe, but licensing hurdles remain, says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Yucca Mountain is safe, but licensing hurdles, says Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Credit: DOE
Yucca Mountain is safe, but licensing hurdles remain, says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Department of Energy’s plan for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, is technically sound, but several steps remain before construction can be recommended, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said last week.

NRC staff released the final two volumes in an extensive five-part safety evaluation, finding no concerns that would preclude the site from receiving nuclear waste. However, the report recommends that the commission should not yet authorize construction because “DOE has not met certain land and water rights requirements.”

DOE still needs to acquire rights to the land on which Yucca Mountain sits. Those rights, which are currently held by several other federal agencies, must be redesignated for the repository by Congress. The department must also secure water rights to the surrounding area from the State of Nevada.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a longtime opponent of the Yucca Mountain project, argues that the proposed repository is a dangerous idea that should be shelved.

“It is flawed because DOE lacks the required land and water rights and has no reason to expect that it will obtain them in the future,” Reid says. “This project will never see the light of day, and everyone should accept that and move on.”

But proponents from states where nuclear waste is being stored until agreement on a long-term solution is reached are hopeful in light of NRC’s safety determination.

“To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that appropriates funding for energy and water development. “There is no reason Congress shouldn’t make Yucca Mountain part of the solution to end the stalemate on nuclear waste.”

More than 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at nuclear power plants across the U.S. The proposed repository at Yucca Mountain is intended to isolate the waste long term to protect human health and the environment. DOE submitted its application in 2008 to begin construction.



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