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High-Level Waste Disposal

Update on Status of High-Level Waste Disposal Program as of September 30, 2011

On March 3, 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) filed a motion with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (Board) seeking permission to withdraw its application for authorization to construct a High-Level Waste geological repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  The Board denied that request on June 29, 2010, in LBP-10-11, and the parties filed petitions asking the Commission to uphold or reverse this decision.

On October 1, 2010, the NRC began orderly closure of its Yucca Mountain activities. As part of the orderly closure, the NRC staff prepared three technical evaluation reports.

On September 9, 2011, the Commission issued a Memorandum and Order, CLI-11-07, stating that it found itself evenly divided on whether to take the affirmative action of overturning or upholding the Board’s June 29, 2010, decision.   Exercising its inherent supervisory authority, the Commission directed the Board to complete all necessary and appropriate case management activities by September 30, 2011. On September 30, 2011, the Board issued a Memorandum and Order suspending the proceeding.

The NRC’s non-sensitive Yucca Mountain-related documents are being preserved and made available to the public as part of the NRC staff’s activities to retain the accumulated knowledge and experience gained as a result of its Yucca Mountain-related activities.

The information above is current as of September, 2011.

On June 3, 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), seeking authorization to construct a deep geologic repository for disposal of high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The NRC's review of that application will require evaluation of a wide range of technical and scientific issues. The NRC will issue a construction authorization only if DOE can demonstrate that it can safely construct and operate the repository in compliance with the NRC's regulations. See What We Regulate and How We Regulate (on this page) for the latest news and information about the NRC's high-level waste disposal activities and the process the agency will use to decide whether to authorize DOE to construct a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain.

What We Regulate

United States policies governing the permanent disposal of HLW are defined by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended (NWPA). This Act specifies that HLW will be disposed of underground, in a deep geologic repository, and that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, will be the single candidate site for characterization as a potential geologic repository. Under the Act, the NRC is one of three Federal agencies with a role in the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, as well as the HLW from the Nation's nuclear weapons production activities:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for designing, constructing, operating, and decommissioning a permanent disposal facility for HLW, under NRC licensing and regulation.

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for developing site-specific environmental standards for use in evaluating the safety of a geologic repository.

  • The NRC is responsible for developing regulations to implement the EPA's safety standards, and for licensing and overseeing the construction and operation of the repository. In addition, the NRC will consider any future DOE applications for license amendments to permanently close the repository, dismantle surface facilities, remove controls to restrict access to the site, or undertake any other activities involving an unreviewed safety question.

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How We Regulate

In accordance with its mission, the NRC focuses its regulatory actions on protecting the health and safety of the public and the environment both before and during the active life of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, and after the facility has been decommissioned. The NRC staff accomplishes this mission by performing the following activities:

  • Establish and enforce safety and security regulations
  • Perform a comprehensive safety review of DOE’s license application
  • Perform an adoption review of DOE’s environmental impact statement
  • Conduct a public, formal adjudicatory hearing
  • Decide whether to authorize or deny repository construction
  • Decide whether to authorize or deny a license to receive and possess waste at Yucca Mountain (if DOE is authorized to construct the repository)
  • Inspect and oversee any construction, waste emplacement, and/or repository closure activities at Yucca Mountain

For additional information about the NRC's role in regulating the proposed geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, see the following pages:

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, January 13, 2014