The Nuclear Regulatory Commission took another step toward making Yucca Mountain ground zero for the nation’s radioactive waste on Tuesday by greenlighting information-gathering activities.
The agency announced that it had approved $110,000 for the endeavor, which leaves about half a million unobligated dollars in the federal government’s Nuclear Waste Fund.
“These activities will enable efficient, informed decisions in support of executing any further appropriations of funds for the High-Level Waste Program,” the commission said in a statement.
The activities will include exploring restoration of the Licensing Support Network — an online database of nearly 4 million documents regarding the adjudicatory hearing on the Yucca Mountain application — or creation of a replacement system. After the adjudicatory hearing was suspended in 2011, the Licensing Support Network was discontinued, and the documents were moved to a library in another electronic system.
Agency staff plan to discuss the issue with members the Licensing Support Network Advisory Review Panel. They will also explore potential venues for licensing hearings, which could take place over the course of years.
Nevada officials wants hearings to be held in state where locals can express their opinion, as opposed to in Washington, D.C.
While efforts toward developing Yucca Mountain went dormant during the Obama Administration, President Donald Trump’s budgets have called for $120 million to help restart the licensing process. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus called this week’s allocation the “tip of the iceberg” of a project that could end up costing at least $80 billion, and said it would be a waste of money.
“Since 2010, the DOE has dismantled much of its infrastructure related to Yucca, losing key personnel, ending hundreds of contracts and subcontracts, terminating leases for office space, and moving truckloads of related resources and documents to facilities across the country,” she said in a statement. “Despite the fact that lawmakers have yet to do so, the NRC’s approval of these funds is based on the assumption that lawmakers will appropriate more money to revive the licensing process.”
Republican Sen. Dean Heller bashed the allocation as a “reckless and fiscally irresponsible decision” given the state’s consistent opposition to any efforts to restart the facility.
Nevada is gearing up for a fight and has ongoing contracts with agencies helping it build its case on legislative and legal fronts. The state contends Yucca Mountain is too geologically active and unstable to isolate radioactive waste for thousands or millions of years.
“I would say the state of Nevada is in sort of a heightened state of vigilance at the moment,” said Marta Adams, a former chief deputy attorney general turned consultant who has worked on the state’s anti-Yucca effort since 1998, in a July update to the governor. “We’re worried but also optimistic that we have a very strong team.”
But officials from Nye County, who support the project, believe that if the science is publicly vetted and the state’s contentions of the project are addressed, it will show that storing nuclear waste at Yucca is actually safe. Officials also project that the repository will be a major boon to the local economy.