Nuke agency resumes Yucca Mountain review

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered its staff to get back to work finalizing a review of a controversial nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

On Monday, the agency announced that it had restarted work on a safety evaluation report for the Yucca Mountain site and also asked the Energy Department to prepare an additional environmental impact statement.

The decision to restart work on the site comes three months after the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the agency to decide on a license application from the Energy Department.

“The Commission reached this decision after obtaining views from numerous parties involved in the licensing process as to how it should proceed,” NRC public affairs officer Dave McIntyre wrote in an agency blog post.

ADVERTISEMENT
The safety evaluation report is “the key technical document” for the NRC's review, he added. One of its five planned volumes was published in 2010, before the review was stalled.  

After the report is finished, the NRC would need to restart an adjudicatory hearing and perform additional reviews before reaching a decision, McIntyre said.  

Multiple Republican lawmakers had urged the agency to get back to work on the review.

In October, six GOP senators led by Sen. Jeff Session (R-Ala.) wrote to the NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane urging it to “proceed promptly” to finish the safety evaluations. 

In its September ruling, the court declared that the NRC violated existing law when it halted its review of the dump site in 2011. The court decision was a setback for President Obama, who personally pledged to halt the process during his 2008 presidential campaign. 

Nevadans, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have opposed using the site, which is about 100 miles outside of Las Vegas, to store nuclear waste. They say that Yucca Mountain is not safe for long-term storage and that a state should have the ultimate say in whether the project goes forward.

The NRC has maintained that it does not have enough money to finish its review of the potential waste site. House Republicans have voted to expand its budget to finish the survey, but those appropriations were never adopted. 

As of Sept. 30, the NRC had $11 million for the review, it said.

-- This story was updated with additional information at 4:44 p.m.