Background on Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

The DOE began studying Yucca Mountain in 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for the nation's first long-term geologic repository for over 70,000 metric tons (69,000 long tons; 77,000 short tons) (150 million pounds) of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste currently stored at 121 sites around the nation. An estimated 10,000 metric tons (9,800 long tons; 11,000 short tons) of the waste would be from America's military nuclear programs. On December 19, 1984, the DOE selected ten locations in six states for consideration as potential repository sites, based on data collected for nearly ten years. The ten sites were studied and results of these preliminary studies were reported in 1985. Based on these reports, President Ronald Reagan approved three sites for intensive scientific study called site characterization. The three sites were Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain. In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and directed DOE to study only Yucca Mountain, which is located within a former nuclear test site. The Act provided that if during site characterization the Yucca Mountain location was found unsuitable, studies would be stopped immediately. This option expired when the site was actually recommended by the President. On July 23, 2002, President George W. Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87,[9] (Pub.L. 107–200) allowing the DOE to take the next step in establishing a safe repository in which to store the country's nuclear waste. The DOE was to begin accepting spent fuel at the Yucca Mountain Repository by January 31, 1998 but did not do so because of a series of delays due to legal challenges, concerns over how to transport nuclear waste to the facility, and political pressures resulting in underfunding of the construction.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to abandon the Yucca Mountain project.[1] As a result Senator Reid moved the Nevada primary to help Obama's campaign. After his election, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Obama he did not have the ability to do so. On April 23, 2009, Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and eight other senators introduced legislation to provide "rebates" from a $30 billion federally managed fund into which nuclear power plants had been paying, so as to refund all collected funds if the project was in fact cancelled by Congress.[2]

In November 2013, in response to a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Nuclear Energy Institute, the US court of appeals ruled that nuclear utilities may stop paying into the nuclear waste recovery fund until either the DOE follows the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which designates Yucca Mountain as the repository, or Congress changes the law.[3] The fee ended May 16, 2014.

Map of Nevada showing the location of Churchill County and Yucca Mountain

Map of spent fuel stored by state: April 2015

 

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