The NRC's Environmental Responsibilities for Yucca Mountain
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires Federal agencies, as part of their decision-making processes, to consider the environmental impacts of major Federal actions. To satisfy these requirements, Federal agencies perform reviews and assessments of the environmental impacts caused by these actions. The range of Federal actions that Federal agencies must consider is varied. These actions may include actions or projects that a Federal agency will perform or is responsible for; or actions or projects proposed by private entities for which the agency has the responsibility of issuing a permit or a license.
The potential issuance of a license for a geologic repository would be a major Federal action that would normally require NRC to prepare an EIS. However, NRC’s role under NEPA is limited by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). Section 114(f)(4) of the NWPA states:
Any environmental impact statement prepared in connection with a repository proposed to be constructed…shall, to the extent practicable, be adopted by the Commission in connection with the issuance by the Commission of a construction authorization and license for such repository. To the extent such statement is adopted by the Commission, such adoption shall be deemed to also satisfy the responsibilities of the Commission under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 [42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.] and no further consideration shall be required, except that nothing in this subsection shall affect any independent responsibilities of the Commission to protect the public health and safety under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 [42 U.S.C. 2011, et seq.].
In accordance with NRC regulations for Yucca Mountain, a DOE license application submitted to NRC is to be accompanied by an EIS. These documents would identify and evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the proposed action in the license application. In accordance with Congress’s direction, the NRC must evaluate DOE’s EIS and determine if it can adopt it, with or without further supplement.