After six years and several court cases, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has finally released the report that every American has paid for and could help move the nation’s commercial nuclear industry back on track.
The NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report Volume 3 concluded that long-term storage of nuclear waste after the closure of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository site is both technically feasible and safe. Located in the Nevada desert, the U.S. Department of Energy originally applied to the NRC for a license to operate a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain because it “brings together the location, natural barriers, and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public.”
The NRC’s conclusions put to rest any questions over Yucca Mountain’s long-term safety and technical feasibility, and it allows the nation to operate under the same agreed-upon facts about the project. For years, those opposed to nuclear energy or to waste storage at Yucca Mountain have argued that the project is unsafe.
When the Obama Administration worked around Congress by attempting to end the NRC’s review process by withdrawing the Yucca Mountain application, its only reasoning was that the project was “not a workable option,” making it plain that the real reason was politics. The NRC, however, has independently concluded that it is, in fact, a workable solution:
The NRC staff finds, with reasonable expectation, that DOE has demonstrated compliance with the NRC regulatory requirements for postclosure safety.… In particular, the NRC staff finds that the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain (1) is comprised of multiple barriers and (2) based on performance assessment evaluations that are in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements, meets the 10 CFR Part 63, Subpart L limits for individual protection, human intrusion, and separate standards for protection of groundwater.
In other words, America’s top independent experts have concluded that the repository design will protect people and the environment from danger for at least one million years as the regulations require.
How We Got Here
President Obama’s attempt to withdraw the Yucca Mountain application from the Department of Energy was not only bad policy but illegal, as a series of court cases eventually determined. Opponents then argued that there were no appropriated funds to update and finish the report after it had been pulled, but in fact there were unspent funds from past appropriations that were available to finish the report. In the end, using these fundsis exactly what the NRC did.
Where We Should Go Next
The President should recognize the sound science the NRC has delivered today. As he has previously said:
Science isn’t just about providing resources.… It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.… It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient.
A nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain may be inconvenient for the President, but it is hard to find a more substantiated and bipartisan issue today:
- Multiple Congresses (1982, 1987, 2002, and the silent consent of every other Congress on the issue) have established that Yucca Mountain is the law of the land and expressed bipartisan support since;
- The courts have upheld the law (in 2002 and 2013);
- The scientific community and global experience have supported deep geologic storage as critical to any waste management plan; and
- The NRC’s independent study has now concluded that the Yucca Mountain site can safely store nuclear waste.
Nuclear power can help the U.S. meet is energy, economic, and environmental goals. It is a clean, affordable domestic energy source. The release of the important third volume of the Safety Evaluation Report doesn’t automatically put the nation’s commercial nuclear power industry on track for success—fundamental problems with nuclear industry regulation and waste management still need to be fixed. The NRC’s report is a critical first step in that process.
A Critical Win
The NRC’s publishing of the Safety Evaluation Report Volume 3 is a critical win for the American people who ponied up $15 billion for the Yucca Mountain project. Not only does it definitively conclude that the repository design meets all NRC requirements to protect long-term public health and safety, it also provides critical information that will be essential to future nuclear-licensing activities. It also undermines the notion that a repository at Yucca Mountain Put a quote here.r waste and restart a nuclear renaissance, n the integirty olicymakers can debate that will allow the nation towon’t be safe. Now Yucca opponents either need to acknowledge that Yucca Mountain is safe, or argue that America’s nuclear regulators are unqualified to carry out their jobs. Given the safety record of America’s nuclear industry, arguing the latter would be untenable. While the NRC has yet to finish the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, this report ultimately allows the nation to move forward with a long-term plan for managing nuclear waste and to restart a nuclear renaissance.