The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday completed the last two of five volumes in its safety evaluation report on a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. 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 from commercial power plants and national security activities.
Senator James Inhofe (R–OK) summed up the completion of the reports well:
The American people have spent 30 years and $15 billion to determine whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository for our nation’s civilian and defense-related nuclear waste. Four years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review was illegally shutdown. Today, with the public release of the last remaining volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report, Americans will finally know the complete technical conclusion about the safety of Yucca Mountain. Congress must now provide funding for the licensing process to continue, and transfer control over the land and water rights to the Department of Energy (DOE) to officially make Yucca Mountain a place to safely contain our nation’s nuclear waste.
For over five decades, nuclear power has safely provided reliable baseload power for many Americans and today generates roughly 19 percent of electricity in the U.S. In 2008, the DOE originally applied to the NRC for a license to construct and operate a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, located in the Nevada desert, because it “brings together the location, natural barriers, and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public.” The process to review that permit request was thrown into political turmoil by the Obama Administration.
With these final two volumes, the NRC concludes that long-term storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is both technically feasible and safe. The NRC still needs to finish an environmental impact statement for the project, hold hearings, and make a final decision before the process concludes. Even then, the NRC stated in the final volume that a license would be contingent on several conditions, including the environmental impact statement and land and water rights issues.
The NRC has been clear that it lacks the means to finish anything beyond the safety evaluation reports. Congress should adequately fund the remaining aspects of the NRC’s license review. Fundamental problems with nuclear industry regulation and waste management still need to be fixed; however, the NRC’s completion of a license for Yucca Mountain is a critical first step in that process.