The Commission today directed the NRC staff to finish the safety evaluation report (SER) for the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain construction authorization application. This direction is the agency’s response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which in August ordered us to resume work on the application using approximately $11 million in unspent money from the Nuclear Waste Fund.
The Commission reached this decision after obtaining views from numerous parties involved in the licensing process as to how it should proceed.
By way of background, Yucca Mountain is the proposed repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste, a site selected by DOE at the direction of Congress. DOE submitted its license application in June 2008, but two years later withdrew it after the Obama administration decided not to pursue the project.
The NRC closed out its unfinished review of the Yucca Mountain application during Fiscal Year 2011. But a lot has happened since then, so it’s important to clarify what today’s action does and does not do.
The Order issued by the Commission today DOES:
• Direct the staff to complete and issue the SER left incomplete when the Yucca Mountain review was closed out;
• Direct the NRC Secretary and other agency staff to enter thousands of documents from the old Licensing Support Network (LSN) into the NRC’s ADAMS documents database so they will be available to the staff and eventually, assuming the availability of funding, to the public;
• Ask the Department of Energy to complete a supplement to its environmental impact statement on Yucca Mountain as the NRC staff found to be necessary back in 2008.
The Order DOES NOT:
• Direct the staff to reconstitute the LSN, which was dismantled in FY 2011;
• Restart the adjudicatory hearing on the application, which remains suspended;
• Signal that a licensing decision is imminent. Before a final licensing decision can be made, the adjudicatory hearing must be completed, and the Commission must perform its own review.
The Commission said it would consider the future of the LSN and the adjudicatory hearing once the tasks it directed today are completed and it can determine what tasks it can perform with whatever funds remain. The agency can only use money Congress has appropriated from the Nuclear Waste Fund for activities related to Yucca Mountain.
The SER is the key technical document of the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain application. It was to be published in five volumes: Volume 1, essentially the introduction, was published in August 2010. Subsequent volumes were not completed before the review was shut down – they were eventually published as “technical evaluation reports,” which are less formal documents that don’t contain regulatory conclusions about the proposed repository.
Although a finished SER would contain those conclusions, it will not be equivalent to a licensing decision, as discussed above.