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  Yucca Mountain (YM)

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982) authorized the United States Department of Energy to investigate sites as a part of the process of selecting repository locations. In May of 1986, the Department of Energy recommended three sites for detailed characterization: the Hanford site in Washington, Deaf Smith County in Texas, and Yucca Mountain in Nevada. In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to designate Yucca Mountain as the only site to be investigated further as a repository site. The Department of Energy continued with the process outlined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982) and in June 2008 submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a license application for construction authorization of a repository for high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission began reviewing the application, but the Department of Energy moved to withdraw the license application in February 2010, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission subsequently ended the review process before the review was completed. Several lawsuits were filed, and the future of the Yucca Mountain project is still uncertain, pending the outcome of these lawsuits. It should be noted that the State of Nevada objected to the selection of Yucca Mountain as the sole repository site, and remains opposed to disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel at Yucca Mountain.

The BRC concluded that several factors contributed to the Yucca Mountain experience. First, amending the Nuclear Waste Policy Act abruptly ended the site selection process and designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site, giving the impression that the repository location was based on political, rather than scientific and technical considerations. Second, the process was not consent-based, as Nevada did not consent to characterizing Yucca Mountain and remained opposed to the project. Third, unrealistic and rigid deadlines were set, deadlines that were not met, thus eroding confidence in the federal government’s ability to manage high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel. Finally, the process for developing a repository was inflexible and made no provisions for an alternative path forward, should one become necessary.