Yucca Mountain: history and lessons learned

18.9.1 Background

In 1977, the DOE identified Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a potential reposi­tory site for future investigation to host the nation ’s first deep geological repository for the disposal of SNF and HLW (Fig. 18.3). Other potential sites included bedded salts in Texas and Utah, salt domes in Louisiana and Mississippi, and basalt in the State of Washington. In 1982, Congress passed the NWPA, which established an office within the DOE with the responsi­bility of providing for the permanent disposal of SNF and HLW, and laid out the process for siting, developing, licensing, and constructing a geologic repository. In 1987, the NWPA was amended and directed the DOE to


18.3 Aerial view of Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Idaho National Laboratory).

investigate only one potential repository site, at Yucca Mountain. The period from 1987 to 2002 was devoted to site characterization of the Yucca Mountain site for a geologic repository, and the following years were dedi­cated to engineering studies and license application (LA) activities. In February 2002, the Secretary of Energy recommended the site to the Presi­dent, and the President recommended the site to Congress. In July 2002, Congress granted the authority to the DOE to prepare and submit a LA for constructing a repository at Yucca Mountain. The LA was submitted to the NRC in June 2008, and it was subsequently accepted for review by the NRC.

In early 2009, the Obama Administration determined that a repository at Yucca Mountain was not a workable option and that the project should be terminated. On March 3, 2010, the DOE filed a motion with an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), seeking permission to with­draw the license application for a HLW repository at Yucca Mountain. On June 29, 2010, the ASLB issued an Order denying the DOE ’s motion to withdraw. This decision was appealed to the NRC. In October 2010, the NRC commenced and continued with the orderly closure of Yucca Moun­tain LA review activities. In September 2011, the Commission announced that the commissioners were evenly divided on the question of whether the ASLB Order should be overturned but, for budgetary reasons, ordered the ASLB to complete all pending case management matters. The ASLB sus­pended the licensing proceeding and, as of April 2012, the proceeding remains suspended.

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