Nevada Sen. Harry Reid announced his retirement from Congress and the U.S. nuclear industry perked up in interest. Reid has long been against building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in his state, saying that it will “never be built.” With his departure from Congress, there is hope the repository project can finally move forward.
However, Reid is not the only one who has spoken out against the project. Department of Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz has also called the Yucca Mountain repository an “unworkable solution,” despite the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying that not only could a repository be built in Yucca Mountain, but that it could also operate and be shut down safely once land and water rights are acquired. Nevada’s governor and commissioners are also against a repository in their state.
The DOE first submitted its application for Yucca Mountain in June 2008. The NRC staff published Volume 1 (General Information) of the safety evaluation report in August 2010. When the DOE withdrew the application and Congress stopped appropriating funds for NRC’s review, the NRC closed out the application review and published three technical evaluation reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC in August 2013 to resume the licensing process using the currently available funding from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which led to the publication of Volume 3 (Repository Safety After Permanent Closure) in October 2014. Volume 4 (Administrative and Programmatic Requirements) was published in December 2014, and Volumes 2 (Repository Safety Before Permanent Closure) and 5 (License Specifications) were published in January 2015.
While none of these publications equals a decision by the NRC, they are a big step toward licensing, but that is still very far off. However, it is unlikely the licensing process for the repository will continue any time soon. Funds for the review have not been allocated, the DOE already withdrew its license application and then there’s the matter of land and water rights. This is in addition to gaining approval from regulators, lawmakers and the community where it could be sited. There are still many steps to take before we can call Yucca Mountain a completed repository.