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Licensing a Nuclear Waste Repository

In 2002 DOE had prepared an application for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct an underground geological repository at Yucca Mountain for the permanent storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is a by-product of the production of nuclear power, which provides about 20 percent of U.S. electricity. About 50,000 metric tons of nuclear waste are stored at 72 sites around the country, principally at commercial nuclear power plants. These wastes have been accumulating for several decades in surface storage designed to be temporary. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required DOE to construct a repository for permanent storage and to begin accepting these wastes by January 31, 1998. In 2002, after more than 15 years of scientific study, the President Bush recommended and the Congress approved Yucca Mountain as a suitable location for the repository.

June 3, 2008: Energy Department submits application to Nuclear Regulatory Commission for license to build, operate Yucca Mountain.

The Obama Administration called for a Blue Ribbon Commission to review alternatives to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada.

October 3, 2010 - NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko directed NRC staff to terminate the technical review of the Yucca Mountain application. An appeal to allow the DOE to withdraw its Yucca Mountain application has been pending since July, after a lower board rejected DOE's request.

NRC Hearing Docket High Level Waste Licensing Hearings:


Yucca Mountain
View of Yucca Mountain

Before the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) can construct and operate a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, it must first obtain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent agency of the federal government. The license application is the formal document an applicant submits to the NRC to present proposed activities. It also documents the safety analyses. The NRC evaluates an applicant's proposed activities and safety analyses by reviewing the license application.

The licensing process requires DOE to demonstrate to NRC that its plans for the repository will meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for protecting public health and the environment from harmful exposure to the radioactive waste. To show that it can meet these standards, DOE has been conducting scientific and technical studies at the Yucca Mountain site that will provide supporting documentation for its planned license application. DOE has also established a quality assurance program to meet NRC requirements and ensure that its work and the technical information it produces are accurate and defensible. To accomplish this goal, the program established procedures that require scientific, design, engineering, procurement, records keeping, and other work to be performed under controlled conditions that ensure quality and enable the work to be verified by others.

The Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to establish a comprehensive policy and program for the safe, permanent disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive wastes in one or more mined geologic repositories. The act charged DOE with (1) establishing criteria for recommending sites for repositories; (2) “characterizing” (investigating) three sites to determine each site’s suitability for a repository (1987 amendments to the act directed DOE to investigate only the Yucca Mountain site); (3) recommending one suitable site to the President, who would submit a recommendation of such site to the Congress if he considered the site qualified for a license application; and (4) upon approval of a recommended site, seeking a license from NRC to construct and operate a repository at the site.

Inside the tunnel at Yucca Mountain

Inside the tunnel at Yucca Mountain

The license is issued in two stages. The first is a construction authorization. The second phase is a license to receive and possess waste.

The license application will address the NRC’s Yucca Mountain Review Plan, which identifies areas of review, review methods, and acceptance criteria that the NRC will use in its review and evaluation of the application. At this time, the DOE has ...

    • Compiled information and written sections of the license application
    • Continued to develop the design of the repository
    • Refined the performance assessment capability
    • Addressed key technical issues identified by the NRC
    • Identified and prepared potentially relevant documentary material for the NRC’s Licensing Support Network
    • Conducted technical exchanges with the NRC staff

When the NRC accepts the license application for technical review, the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (Board) will initiate a proceeding that includes public hearings. During the proceeding, DOE will address contentions (points of disagreement with DOE’s license application) submitted to the Board by parties. Potential parties include the NRC, the DOE, the state of Nevada, and affected units of local government or parties whose interests may be affected by the proceeding.

Accessing the License Application

If construction authorization is granted, DOE will begin initial construction of emplacement tunnels and surface facilities.

Before completing construction, DOE will update its application for a license to receive and possess waste, as required by NRC regulations.

The Department of Energy's license application will be accompanied by DOE’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geological Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada, in support of receiving construction authorization and, ultimately, a license to receive and possess waste. In July of 2006, the Department announced plans to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by June 30, 2008, and to initiate repository operations in 2017. This opening date of 2017 is a "best-achievable schedule" and is predicated upon enactment of new legislation.

Licensing Support Network

The Licensing Support Network was shut down the end of September 2011 due to shortage in funding.

The Licensing Support Network (LSN) is a web-based information system intended to facilitate the discovery process. It was to supports the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) licensing process for a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. All potential parties to the NRC's licensing proceeding, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NRC, place relevant documentary material in the LSN. The LSN contained electronically retrievable documentary material relevant to the DOE’s license application. The LSN provided the public and potential parties to the NRC's licensing proceeding access to information relevant to the licensing of a repository at Yucca Mountain prior to submittal of the license application. In early August of 2011 due to lack of funding the NRC shutdown the LSN. Each party retains their discovery documents related to the hearing process. Churchill County's documentation can be found on our publications page.

The following link is a PDF file which contains information on how the NRC will go about deciding whether to license the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste repository.

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