RENO — Permanent closure plans for a high-level nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain met all the necessary objectives based on safety evaluations completed before the Obama administration pulled the plug on the proposed Nevada dump, federal nuclear regulators said in a long-awaited staff report on Thursday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff said in a 781-page document that the underground storage facility once planned in the desert mountains 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas would meet all post-closure design requirements.
The multiple natural and man-made barriers would adequately protect public health and groundwater, and sufficiently guard against sabotage or human intrusion, the report concluded.
The safety evaluation assesses only post-closure risks. The NRC intends to publish in January separate assessments of repository safety prior to closure as well as licensing specifications.
The assessments are among those the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered last year that the agency complete with any money that remained in the pool of Yucca Mountain funds in a ruling in a lawsuit brought by pro-Yucca interests. The lawsuit was filed after Congress and the White House cut off spending for the project in 2010.
Nuclear energy industry leaders hailed the report as a “key milestone” that should serve to restart stalled efforts to build the facility they say is needed to store more than 72,000 metric tons of radioactive fuel stored at more than 70 sites in 34 states.
“DOE should immediately begin re-establishing a program to support the Yucca Mountain project and the licensing process,” said Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute based in Washington D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other members of the state’s congressional delegation vowed to keep that from happening.
“The administration has rejected the Yucca Mountain project while Congress has defunded it,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Thursday. “The only path forward for long-term waste storage is a multi-site consent based approach.”
The NRC emphasized in a news release accompanying the report that it “does not signal whether the NRC might authorize construction of the repository.”
“A final licensing decision, should funds beyond those currently available be appropriated, could come only after completion” of several other steps, the agency said, including issuance of an overall safety evaluation report, a supplement to the DOE’s environmental impact statement, public hearings and commission review.