NRC approves Yucca Mountain roadmap

October 14, 2020, 12:03PMRadwaste Solutions

Yucca Mountain in Neveda.

The commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-2 in favor of a recommendation by agency staff to produce a knowledge management “roadmap” for the suspended Yucca Mountain license review. According to NRC staff, the roadmap, which would focus on the regulatory and technical bases of the NRC’s review of the proposed high-level waste repository, would assist staff in resuming licensing work should Congress appropriate funds to do so. The NRC staff said that the document would be completed within a year.

The staff proposes to use $164,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) to develop the document. The staff’s proposal, along with the voting records of the NRC commissioners, was posted to the NRC’s ADAMS website on October 9.

The rationale: The NRC staff, in recommending the document, noted that most of the agency’s senior staff who participated in the licensing review of Yucca Mountain have retired or left the agency since 2011, when the licensing proceeding was suspended following the Department of Energy’s withdrawal of its application for the repository.

“It can be expected that, within the next few years, remaining key NRC and [Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses] technical staff will no longer be available to support the licensing proceeding, should the agency receive funds to restart these activities,” the staff wrote in its report to the commissioners.

While the NRC has conducted knowledge management activities in the past to preserve technical information related to Yucca Mountain, the staff said that this new roadmap “would assist the technical staff navigating through the thousands of existing technical documents related to the regulatory requirements and safety review, and is expected to reduce the time needed for individual technical staff preparations.” The roadmap would identify key technical documents and highlight the relationship of those documents to any “relevant regulatory topic and/or technical review.”

The funds for developing the knowledge management document would be taken from the approximately $420,000 that the NRC has remaining in its NWF appropriations. Currently, the only activity the NRC does related to Yucca Mountain for which NWF money is used is in preparing monthly reports to Congress, for which it spends about $500 a month. The NRC has not received new NWF appropriations since 2011.

The vote: Voting in favor of the roadmap were NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki and Commissioners Annie Caputo and David Wright. Commissioners Jeffery Baran and Christopher Hanson voted against the proposal.

In comments on her voting to approve the staff’s proposal, Svinicki wrote, “Given the retirements of NRC subject matter experts that have already occurred and those expected in the coming years, the modest funding proposed to be utilized for this activity is both reasonable and prudent in light of the vast public resources expended on the review and associated activities over the last decades.”

In voting to disapprove, Hanson wrote, “While there might be some benefit to the roadmap, given the extensive work the staff has already done to preserve information, I think this activity would be redundant and not worth the cost.” Baran agreed, adding that it is “prudent to retain a reasonable balance” of NWF appropriations given the potential of further Yucca Mountain-related court costs.

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