Yucca Mountain Declared Safe for Nuclear Waste Storage

Published March 13, 2015

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined it would be safe to operate a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The NRC completed the last two volumes of its five-volume safety evaluation in January.

Even though the report found Yucca Mountain would be safe, NRC staff did not recommend construction begin on the repository because land and water issues remain to be resolved, and a supplement to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement is still incomplete.

Politics, Not Safety

Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, argues the Obama administration is hostile to nuclear energy.

“Review after review shows Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository for spent nuclear fuel. The engineering isn’t the problem—political opposition is,” he said.

Tom Tanton, president of T 2 & Associates, a consulting firm to the energy and technology industries, said approval of Yucca Mountain is perhaps the only regulatory proceeding that has taken longer than the Keystone pipeline. He participated in early proceedings in the 1980s.

“Every time a new requirement has been raised, science and innovation show approval should be forthcoming. But that raises another, broader point. The requirements should be fixed and firm at the start of any regulatory process. Too often opponents of anything can simply delay and delay by raising new ‘concerns’ near the end of the process, damning projects to an endless loop of politicized Luddism,” he said.

In June 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy submitted the application for the Yucca Mountain site, sparking the five-volume safety review. The Yucca Mountain site would serve as a repository for nuclear waste from commercial power plants and national security activities.

Steps to Open Yucca Mountain

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, vowed to work with his Senate colleagues to ensure the nation has a safe and permanent place to store nuclear waste.

“The American people have spent 30 years and $15 billion to determine whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository for our nation’s civilian and defense-related nuclear waste,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Four years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review was illegally shut down. Today, with the public release of the last remaining volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report, Americans will finally know the complete technical conclusion about the safety of Yucca Mountain. Congress must now provide funding for the licensing process to continue, and transfer control over the land and water rights to the Department of Energy (DOE) to officially make Yucca Mountain a place to safely contain our nation’s nuclear waste.”

Several hurdles still remain before construction of the repository can begin, including the NRC issuing its decision on whether to authorize construction. Before NRC can do so, Congress must transfer control of the land where the facility is located to the DOE, and water rights problems must be resolved.

“The DOE needs to purchase nearby water rights, but those rights are owned by the state of Nevada and the state does not want to sell the rights,” Simmons explained. “There is a court case regarding the water rights, but that case is stayed for now.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Safety Evaluation Report Related to Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Wastes in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada Volume 2. http://heartland.org/policy-documents/safety-evaluation-report-related-disposal-high-level-radioactive-wastes-geologic-re