The NRC has issued Volume 4 of the Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report (SER). Volume 4 covers administrative and programmatic requirements for the proposed repository. In particular, it contains the NRC staff’s conclusion on whether DOE’s research and development program, quality assurance program, emergency plan, and other administrative programs will ensure that a repository as previously proposed would meet applicable NRC requirements. The staff found that the Yucca Mountain application satisfies most NRC administrative and programmatic requirements, with the only exceptions relating to certain requirements involving ownership of land and water rights. DOE has clearly not pursued meeting those latter requirements.
The NRC recently published Volume 3 of the SER, often cited as the most critical SER volume because of its assessment of repository safety post-closure. After the release of Volume 4, the remaining two volumes (Repository Safety Before Permanent Closure and License Specifications) are expected to be published by the end of January 2015, resulting in completion of the SER. Of course, SER completion does not constitute authorization to construct the repository, as many other necessary steps of the process – the environmental impact statement supplement and adjudicatory process, for example – would still need to be completed.
But, issuance of the two volumes of the SER to date address the most important safety and programmatic requirements. The NRC has found that the Yucca Mountain application is compliant with NRC regulations. These reports are surely a significant measure in establishing the viability of safe, permanent nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain. They stand in stark contrast to the former DOE Secretary’s assessment that Yucca Mountain is not “a workable option.” Apart from politics, the reports to date certainly suggest that from scientific and regulatory perspectives, the project is completely workable.