Advocates of a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain cheered an Oct. 16 Nuclear Regulatory Commission report that concluded the project poses no public-health threat. But the long-stalled Nevada repository still faces many hurdles.
The NRC report said the Dept. of Energy's design for a proposed underground high-level-waste facility about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas meets safety requirements that would apply after its closing for up to 1 million years.
But to be revived, even potentially, the project requires more funding from Congress and a final, positive NRC recommendation. Both appear unlikely.
The Obama administration, along with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and other Nevada lawmakers, strongly oppose continuing the project. They have instead suggested that alternative sites be identified.
In 2010, DOE filed a motion to withdraw its NRC license application to continue work on the project. NRC subsequently closed its review of the application, and the administration's budget requested zero dollars for the project. But in August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered NRC to resume the licensing process using funding that the commission already has available.
The new report covers the period after a repository at Yucca Mountain would be permanently closed, if NRC were to give the project the green light.
NRC says it will publish three additional volumes by January 2015. The commission noted in a statement that the release of the evaluation does not signal whether it would authorize construction of the repository.
Still, Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called NRC's evaluation a "game-changing" development. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, "I am pleased that this important work has finally come to light so we can move forward with a permanent repository and get our nation's nuclear future back on track."
The House approved a fiscal 2015 appropriations bill on July 10 that included $150 million for Yucca Mountain and $55 million to continue the NRC's licensing process.
But in the Senate, an appropriations subcommittee approved an energy and water programs bill in June that has no 2015 funding for Yucca Mountain. The administration said President Obama would veto the House bill if it were to reach his desk.
Marvin Fertel, Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer, called the NRC's report a "milestone" but said more funding is needed from Congress for the next phase of NRC's licensing process, which includes hearings on challenges to the application.
Fertel also said that the U.S. needs a "viable program" for the long-term management of high-level nuclear waste.