IB92059 - Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal
24-Feb-2006; Mark Holt; 19 p.
Update: June 1, 2006
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS: President Bush’s FY2007 budget request, submitted to Congress on February 6, would provide $544.5 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) civilian nuclear waste program, $50 million above the FY2006 level. The FY2006 appropriation sets aside $50 million for the development of a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan, for which no funding is being sought for FY2007. However, $250 million for nuclear fuel recycling research is included in the request for DOE nuclear energy research and development (R&D) as part of a new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). The Administration also said in the budget request that it would submit legislation to Congress dealing with nuclear waste regulation and funding, but provided no details.
DOE announced on October 25, 2005, that it would require most spent fuel to be sealed in standardized canisters before shipment to a planned national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, a change that would largely eliminate the handling of individual fuel assemblies at the site. DOE subsequently informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that making those changes to the repository’s operational plans would further delay submission of a Yucca Mountain license application to NRC. DOE currently has no announced schedule for the license application, which previously had been planned by 2005.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 9 proposed new standards for the Yucca Mountain repository that would allow higher radiation exposure after 10,000 years than during the first 10,000 years of repository operation. The previous EPA standards were overturned July 9, 2004, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled that the regulations’ 10,000-year compliance period was too short. The state of Nevada has strongly objected to the EPA-proposed rule.
NRC on February 21 issued a license for a private interim waste storage facility in Utah being developed by a nuclear utility consortium called Private Fuel Storage (PFS). However, PFS still needs approval from the Bureau of Land Management to widen a highway or build a railroad to the site. The above-ground PFS facility is intended to store up to 4,000 casks of spent nuclear fuel awaiting planned eventual disposal at Yucca Mountain.
Abstract: Management of civilian radioactive waste has posed difficult issues for Congress since the beginning of the nuclear power industry in the 1950s. Federal policy is based on the premise that nuclear waste can be disposed of safely, but new storage and disposal facilities have frequently been challenged on safety, health, and environmental grounds. Although civilian radioactive waste encompasses a wide range of materials, most of the current debate focuses on highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) calls for disposal of spent nuclear fuel in a deep geologic repository. NWPA established an office in the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop such a repository and required the program’s civilian costs to be covered by a fee on nuclear-generated electricity, paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund. Amendments to NWPA in 1987 restricted DOE’s repository site studies to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. DOE is studying numerous scientific issues at Yucca Mountain in preparing a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the planned repository. Questions about the site include the likelihood of earthquakes, volcanoes, water infiltration, and human intrusion.
NWPA’s goal for loading waste into the repository was 1998, but DOE now does not expect to open the facility until sometime after 2012. President Bush recommended the Yucca Mountain site to Congress on February 15, 2002. A resolution to allow licensing of the site to proceed, despite a “veto” by the Governor of Nevada, was signed by the President on July 23, 2002 (P.L. 107-200).
The Administration is requesting $544.5 million for the civilian nuclear waste program in FY2007, $50 million above the FY2006 level. The FY2006 appropriation sets aside $50 million for DOE to develop a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan. No further funding for spent fuel recycling is included in the FY2007 waste program budget request. However, a $250 million increase for recycling technology is included in the request for DOE nuclear energy R&D as part of a new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).
DOE announced on October 25, 2005, that it would require most spent fuel to be sealed in standardized canisters before shipment to Yucca Mountain, a change that would largely eliminate the handling of individual fuel assemblies at the site. DOE subsequently informed NRC that making those changes in the repository’s operational plans would further delay submission of the Yucca Mountain license application, for which there is currently no announced schedule.
Delays in the Yucca Mountain project could be exacerbated by a July 2004 federal circuit court decision that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 10,000-year regulatory compliance period for the repository was too short. EPA proposed revised standards on August 9, 2005.
Low-level waste disposal sites are a state responsibility under the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980. Pursuant to that act, 10 regional compacts for disposal of low-level waste have been approved by Congress. Three commercial low-level waste sites are currently operating in the states of South Carolina, Utah, and Washington. The Washington facility accepts waste only from within the Northwest and Rocky Mountain regional compacts, and the Utah site accepts only the least-concentrated waste class.